It’s “déjá vu all over again” — transit benefit to be cut in half at the end of the yearDecember 7, 2011
By Stephen Lee Davis
I feel like I’ve written this post a few times before. (Yes, it looks like we have.)
In a carbon copy replay of exactly what happened last year, a big change will go into effect on the first day of January that could have big ramifications for anybody who takes advantage of the federal tax benefits to help consumers pay for their commutes.
If Congress does nothing by the end of the year, if you take transit to get to work each day you could be paying more out of your own pocket when the tax benefit for transit is cut in half. If that wasn’t enough, drivers will keep enjoying the same great parking benefit ($230) – nearly double what transit commuters will be eligible to receive. We don’t think that’s fair, and Congress needs to hear about it.
So if you spend more than $120 a month on your commute in a vanpool, train or bus, the federal government will be sending a message loud and clear: they’d like you to start driving to work, where you can get $230 for parking deducted from your paycheck tax free.
The transit benefit and the parking benefit were once at different levels, but a provision in the stimulus raised the transit benefit so that everyone could enjoy the tax relief for their commute, no matter how they choose to get to work. When it was due to expire last year at this time, Congress extended it last December after thousands of people — including many of you — wrote and called Congress.
Transportation is the second largest household expense for many households. The millions of Americans who depend on transit to get to work each day shouldn’t have to pay more, and certainly not for something that also saves us energy, reduces congestion and emissions, and uses less oil. Americans need more low-cost transportation options.
Note: we’ve received a few emails and comments asking about why we’re not pushing for other changes, like lowering the parking benefit to the current level of the transit benefit instead — as well as ideas about including a much more flexible parking cash-out program so people who work for a company with a parking fringe benefit can “cash-out” that money to pay for a transit ride instead. It’s not that we don’t necessarily support those other ideas, but it’s not likely that any of them would make any progress in these last few weeks of the year. The best immediate plan is to ensure that the transit benefit isn’t slashed in half.
Quite a few in Congress have discussed ways to improve the commuting benefits in the long-term transportation bill. Rep. Blumenauer introduced a bill to implement the parking cash-out and equalize the benefit levels, which Streetsblog covered back in May. A more comprehensive and balanced program of commuter benefits is definitely something that we, along with some of our key partners like the Association for Commuter Transportation, are working hard to improve in the reauthorization.