The Couch

The Couch – Guidance required: Charging for Travel Time

The Couch is a learning place, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions.

Travel time is a new thing for our colleague’s clients and questions abound. Can You help?

To all the sages at NAJIT who read The Observer, please do give me a light.
Travel Time
I have moved within my state and I am in a new county.  I still get called to go to my old county courthouse to interpret there and my old clients are starting to resent my charging travel time. My take is there are more miles, a longer commute and I do not see why I should not charge.
But how do you charge? How do you calculate what to charge? Is it actual time traveled or the distance? Depending on the time of day, travel time may change for the same distance, hence my question.
Please help a colleague, won’t you?

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22 thoughts on “The Couch – Guidance required: Charging for Travel Time”

  1. liviu lee roth says:

    The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has specific rules that apply to your situation. If you are on the Roster of court interpreters in your state, you and the court must follow the recommendations.


  2. William King says:

    What do you charge when you are given an assignment say 50 Mi away from where you are.

    Many agencies are fighting that but it’s pay or no service

  3. Vicki Santamaría says:

    The folks in your old county just need some educating. In Colorado, where I work, we have a state-wide travel policy for interpreters. It’s too long to attach, so here’s the link:, then click on Interpreters at the bottom right corner of the home page, then click on Active Interpreters on the left, then under Resources for Court Interpreters, click on Interpreter Payment Policies F20, then on page 2 of Fy20 Fiscal Policy: Payment of Language Interpreters you’ll find the policy for travel rates.

    It’s the norm for interpreters to be paid travel time and mileage if the distance is longer than a normal commute.

    1. Linda Ross says:

      The feds consider a normal commute to be 45 miles.

  4. Vicki Santamaria says:

    Please correct the link in my previous message.

    1. Vicki Bermudez says:

      I was interested in seeing your policy, but neither of the links worked. Any ideas?

  5. I charge travel time if I drive distance longer than one hour and charge hourly.
    Some agree to pay and some do not pay.
    Most of the County Courts do not pay.

  6. Andrew Dafoe says:

    As an agency founder and Interpreter, I have always used the Federal mileage rate for distance travelled. I believe it allows for a much more standardardized rate and clients seem to be mors acceoting of a figure thats set nationally. That said, I can also see the argument that that rate doesn’t adequately compensate for the level of expertise many interpreters have.

    1. Seth Hammock says:

      I use the Federal rate too. But apart from mileage concerns, you have to keep in mind that part of staying in business maximizing opportunities. Conversely If the numbers don’t work out they are not a client for you. They’ll just call someone else at a lower price. And sometimes a price increase is warranted anyway. They’ll get used to it or call someone else. The Federal rate is an objective way to justify mileage. I drive 30 miles before charging mileage.

    2. Linda Ross says:

      Also an agency founder and interpreter, we have negotiated a flat extended service area fee. It is a lower rate than our professional services fee because, honestly, I don’t use my professional skills to travel. That flat rate covers both drive time and mileage.

  7. Sorry
    Email address was incorrect.

  8. C Carrera says:

    Aside from quoting standards set by the federal & state governments to help educate, continue to seek better clients who will respect your time. Diversify diverisy diversify

  9. Helen Eby says:

    That is a complex topic. You will find some answers to that here.
    Basically, should your clients pay for your decision to move to another county? That is a question you should ask yourself. Could you find new clients in your new county? I am not advocating one way or the other, just for putting ourselves in their shoes.

  10. Vicki Bermudez says:

    It’s entirely up to you what to charge! My experience is that every interpreter charges according to what he or she deems best. Some charge more for their hours, but don’t bill for travel time or mileage. Others charge less per hour, but add travel time and/or mileage. Those who add for mileage usually do it at the federal rate…but not all. Those who bill their travel time, may do it at a lesser rate/hour than interpreting time…or not! And some charge both travel time AND mileage.

    There are several things you might take into consideration when determining how or what you decide to charge. The best starting point is to determine what it actually costs you to travel to that courthouse. It sounds like it may be different, depending on the time of day. But every good entrepreneur needs to know his or her own cost of staying in business.

    As far as setting rates, knowledge is key. My state, for example, helps the counties pay for interpreters, both for interpreting time and mileage. The state sets the reimbursement rate for mileage, but it doesn’t set a specific rate for travel time, hence there’s a great variation in what interpreters bill. Does your state help counties pay for interpreters’ travel time and/or mileage? If so, it might be easier for them to accept your new policy. If not, can you set forth in writing your good reasons for charging more for travel? You might need to let them know why they should choose you over another interpreter. Perhaps you could even offer them some options, based on how much business they conduct with you.

    However, besides the tangible costs, keep in mind the intangibles. The market is a factor in any business. How important are they to you, as your customer? Conversely, how important are you to them? In my state, certified interpreters are very much in demand, because there are few of us. How many other interpreters are available for your courthouse to use? The law of supply and demand may be a big factor if your courthouse has other options. Is that particular court your principal means of support? Are the courts in general your only customers? Would it be a better use of your time to find other customers? How long did it take you to build your business in your old county and establish relationships, between both major clients and those who do less business with you? How long might it take you to build new business in your new county? You can often charge more for private meetings than the courts will pay. Are you willing to put in the time to build new relationships? Are you willing or able to spend money advertising or putting together a website, or can you network on free online sites such as Alignable or LinkedIn? Can you build your network of clients through becoming active in a local chamber of commerce? Although none of these considerations are directly related to how much you decide to bill for travel, this might give you a wider perspective, and help you to decide what to do.

  11. As a Florida Court Interpreter and Agency founder, I have set the GSA mileage rate for traveling more than 40 miles (one-way) and a rate of 1/2 hourly rate for portal (travel time). Most of my direct clients accept these rates. I only work with the courts directly seldom and I do see how they may be more restricted to national or state rate norms.

  12. Chris Verduin says:

    I always find it is best to be completely up front, transparent – in a cordial way.
    When someone from afar in general asks me to come, I always say something like,
    “Well that date is open, I am willing to travel that far, that’s the good part. However,
    I will need to charge you mileage, travel time, expenses (or whatever it is) to do that.”
    So before any job is accepted, the potential (or in your case, present) client has been
    informed that he/she is expected to pay for the additional expense (whether defined by your courts or at your discretion).. Then if the client is still interested you can talk about price. If not, so be it.
    The intentional transparency is something I use in all of my negotiations. I give my
    price, or expectations for the job, right up front. And if the person (or whatever) says they can’t really pay that much, I understand. For myself, and my own well-being,
    I realize that some places can’t (or won’t) pay as much as I am asking, I just have to say, “That’s OK, you have to do what you have to do” – and I have to do what I have to do. No rancor. No bad feelings. Just business.
    Of course your case is complicated by the fact that your previous relationship with these clients was already established. Take a deep breath, apologize for the “inconvenience”, and politely explain why you have to charge more.
    Regards, Chris Verduin

  13. Judith Kenigson Kristy says:

    You can use a google map to see both the mileage and an estimated travel time (it even estimates time frames depending on your departure time, to allow for variations due to traffic). I use that to calculate my travel time fee (at the same rate as interpreting fee) and mileage cost. I include both in my pre-assignment letter of agreement about the assignment parameters, fees, expenses, and cancellation policy. Then everyone knows what to expect. They can take it or leave it. That’s for private clients. For the courts, they probably already have a policy. Here, they always pay travel time but only pay mileage if the assignment is out of my home county. You should be able to find that out on your court’s or state’s web page.

    1. Genevieve Howe says:

      Hello Judith. In which state do you work? I am looking for models for how Travel time is paid to Court Interpreters. I am hoping to make a recommendation to the trial courts of Massachusetts. Thank you, Genevieve

  14. Vicki Santamaría says: is the link for the Colorado courts interpreter payment. You can’t reach it on a phone. It has to be on a computer.

  15. If you’re like most court interpreters and locked into a certain daily-fee-plus-mileage arrangement of the type that courts like to impose on interpreters, you should never waive that compensation, wherever you choose to live. It does not require any renegotiation, just a stated change of home address. For the court it’s an ordinary expense that it does not need to get special permission for, while for you it’s an important addition to the usually low fees that without it, the work is not really worth the effort.
    The courts may obviously look for an alternative nearby and call you less frequently – that makes perfect sense from their point of view.
    I have usually found that less work is better than time spent without adequate compensation. You can spend any extra time this leaves you with on networking in your new county and in other counties that are closer to you now than they were before your move.

    1. Looks like I messed up a sentence. It should have been:

      “for you it’s an important addition to the usually low fees that courts tend to pay. Without it, the work is not really worth the effort.”

  16. Genevieve Howe says:

    This is a helpful discussion. I will follow up on some of these ideas and links. I am hoping to make presents some proposals to the trial courts of Massachusetts for how per diem Interpreters should be compensated for travel time. Please let me know if you have any additional ideas or other travel time compensation models. Thank you very much.

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