Norton Trying to Get (Fed) Mass Transit Commuters the Same Benefits as Drivers

Photo by PoPville flickr user philliefan99

From Congresswoman Norton’s press release:

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) plans to offer an amendment on the House floor next week to the surface transportation bill, H.R. 7 (American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012), to encourage commuters to use mass transit by equalizing tax benefits for mass transit and parking, which had been the case until American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding expired this year. Currently, commuters receive up to $240 a month for driving their personal cars to work and up to $125 a month for taking mass transit. Norton’s amendment would be retroactive to the beginning of the year.

“It is insane to incentivize by almost two to one the use of cars over mass transportation to get to work,” Norton said. “At the very least, we should level the playing field by giving commuters the same tax benefits for using public transportation as for driving. My amendment, of course, applies nationwide, but without it, the effect in this region, where traffic congestion is already a crisis issue, could become catastrophic. Some do not care as much about the serious health and environmental effects as I do, but everybody cares about being stuck in traffic.”

Norton also said that with mass transit fares continuing to rise here and throughout the nation, and ridership declining from the recession, now is not the time to lower the benefit. Norton is opposed to the underlying bill and voted against it in the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, but said she is planning to offer the amendment so at least some good would come from the legislation if it passes.

23 Comment

  • My favorite – a friend of mine is a contractor for a federal agent downtown.

    The federal agent refuses to reimburse contractors for mass transit but will reimburse for parking. So he just parks his car every day, at $20 some odd bucks a day.

    • SouthwestDC

      Similar situation here– my company doesn’t reimburse for taking public transit but employees have free parking. Not surprisingly, I don’t know a single person here besides myself who doesn’t drive.

  • gotryit

    Bikes get a whopping $20 per month and people who walk don’t get anything. Because clearly drivers and people who take mass transit deserve more benefits than people who bike or walk. How about getting rid of these incentives altogether? Add to my salary if you have the money.

    • Ha! That’s if your lucky enough that your employer actually implements the $20 bicycle subsidy. I’ve been trying at work since that was signed into law with no luck.

  • The additional incentives aren’t going to convince anybody to switch to Metro, once they realize there’s a really good chance they’ll be waiting 45 minutes for a train, or sitting on one without a/c in a tunnel for that long. Maybe she should focus on improving Metro’s funding, and even more importantly, reforming management there.

    • SouthwestDC

      I agree with this. If you’re commuting into DC from the surburbs, driving is much much faster and less of a hassle (in some cases it’s less expensive too). I hate driving, and I’m a big proponent of taking public transit or walking/biking whenever possible, but when I lived in Northern Virginia I drove because it made absolutely no sense not to.

  • Why should tax payers subsidize Federal commutes at any level?

    • gotryit

      because it’s part of total compensation

    • Because private companies are allowed to write those expenses off, and thus subsidize people to park.

    • Because it helps everyone if people have an incentive to take public transit. Can you imagine how ridiculous the traffic would be in this area if not for this benefit?

    • It’s not for federal employees. It’s for pre-tax use of transit costs. Any employer can take advantage of this. Your first $125 of transit spend can be pre-tax compared to your first $240 of parking spend that can be pre-tax.

      Then with that, the regional transit agencies created SmartBenefits to allow employers to give money to their employees to pay for transit pre-tax. Yes, the Federal Government picks up the pre-tax amount for its employees as a fringe benefit. Any employer can do this. Though most private employers require their employees to use their own wages to pay that amount.

      EHN is clearly arguing about this for federal employees there’s no doubt, but it also affects anyone who uses the tax benefit.

  • I am a new federal employee and I have never heard of federal employees getting benefits for parking or biking, just for mass transit. Are these benefits agency specific? If not, can someone share a link to, presumably, OPM references?

  • “At the very least, we should level the playing field by giving commuters the same tax benefits for using public transportation as for driving.”

    No, what we should be doing is completely removing these ridiculous perks (from both drivers and transit takers) completely.

    When did the responsibility to get to your own job become someone elses problem to pay for? If getting to and from work is too expensive, long, logistically problematic, then don’t take the job.

    You want to drive to work? Great, pay for parking. You want to take the train? Great, pay to take the train.

    150K federal employees in the DC region get either smart benefits where their agency gives them x dollars (supposed to be determined by how far away you live and the cost of transit to your office) per month to spend on transit. On top of that, you are able to take advantage of this pre-tax benefit.

    Lastly, for a year leading up to the pre-tax amount going back to what it was pre ARRA, mass transit authorities were screaming that mass transit commuters would leave the system in droves, choking the roads.

    Well, it has been 6 weeks. Has Metro, MARC or VRE seen the daily exodus yet? No? Imagine my surprise…

    • Well, I don’t know the history here. It’s possible this was done in lieu of a (larger) raise. It’s easy to see how that might be attractive to both sides – at least in the case of the metro subsidy – a tax free benefit for something you would pay for anyway (as you say) while the feds have an interest in getting people out of cars and into mass transit.

  • I’d rather the driving tax incentive be reduced down to $125 than the transit benefit raised back up.

  • brookland_rez

    This is ridiculous. There should be no incentive for driving a car to work.

    There should be incentives for mass transit, bicycles, motorcycles, walking. All of these methods use less petrol and reduce congestion.

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