Drive, Don’t Ride: Congress

Once again, it appears that Congress has no trouble subsidizing people who drive to work, but transit users?  That’s another matter.

The disparity is sharply in focus these days, as the program that allows transit riders a tax benefit was slashed at the turn of the year, while benefits for drivers increased.  The disparity amounts to a hidden fare increase of about $450 in 2014 for a typical transit user who earns $50,000 a year and spends $245 a month on transit, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (January 6).  Similar programs for both drivers and transit users allow commuters to pay for parking or transit passes with pre-tax dollars; in 2013, both could spend $245 a month on their commutes and not pay taxes on the money.  The parking subsidy is permanently enshrined in law and even benefits from regular cost-of-living increases, so it will increase to $250 a month for 2014.  The transit subsidy, however, had only a temporary increase from its historic level of $130 per month; Congress failed to extend it, so it reverts to the lower figure for 2014 unless Congress were to act early in the new year.  Given the gridlock that infests Washington, the prospects of a change seem dubious.  The parking subsidy enjoys wider support throughout the U.S., since people drive to work in most places, whereas mass transit tends to be concentrated in and around major urban areas, such as the Northeast.  One of a coalition of legislators hoping to restore the transit benefit is U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who remarked, “I think there is a bias not just to the Northeast per se, but to transit benefits as a whole.”