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Commuters Could Feel Brunt of Recession If Benefit Not Extended

Commuters Could Feel Brunt of Recession If Benefit Not Extended

Public transit users and lobbyists are scrambling to get Congress to extend a pre-tax benefit for employees nationwide that will be cut nearly in half on January 1.

A petition site consisting of groups like Employers Council on Flexible Compensation and Visa has already sent thousands of letters to Congress urging them to keep the current $230 monthly benefit. If Congress doesn’t extend this benefit, it will be reduced to $120 each month. However, car and parking benefits will remain at $230 a month each.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has reported that in 2010, ridership on public transit increased 38 percent versus a 21 percent increase in car usage. Each year, there are 10.2 billion public transit trips – 35 million weekly trips. Despite this, transportation agencies across the country are continuing to cut services and raise fares even as taxes that pay for highways and roads has stayed the same since 1993.

In the economic recession, public transit has saved American families almost $10,000 a year in commuting costs and cutting commuting benefits could mean fewer options for lower-income commuters.

In 1998, Congress amended the tax code to allow employers to give employees a pre-tax benefit to help pay for commuting costs in hopes of reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality. Congress raised the benefit to $230 a month in 2009 to equal the car and parking benefits.

If Congress doesn’t act before December 31, employees who rely on public transit, especially in large cities with considerably higher transit costs, will feel more of the brunt of this benefit decrease.

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Photo credit: Jcornelius

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18 comments

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1:59PM PST on Dec 23, 2011

Not directly related to the post, yet somehow feels appropriate -

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.” The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude."

She rolled her eyes and said, “You must be an Obama Democrat.” “I am,” replied the man. “How did you know?” “Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help to me.”

The man smiled and responded, “You must be a Republican.” “I am,” replied the balloonist. “How did you know?” “Well,” said the man, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You’ve risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You’re in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it’s my fault.”

8:56PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

US's public transportation is so far behind Europe, Japan, China...shameful and wasteful.

6:33PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

Why not end subsidies for roads and make them be paid for by fuel taxes altogether, with possible exemptions for food-only freight transit? We'd see renewable energy be cheaper, maybe, and mass transit would certainly be cheaper.

Remember that part of the cost of oil is keeping troops in the Middle East too, and having ships in the Persian Gulf.

5:17PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

If the lawmakers holding this up are doing so solely for fiscal reasons, then why aren't they proposing to lower the car and parking subsidies to match the transportation subsidy? As far as I know, there are no such measures being proposed by these same fools.

These sorts of glaring contradictions are the simplest and most direct way to cut through the bullshit. The lawmakers blocking the extension do not care about fiscal constraint: that's their escape hatch from those of us that aren't paying attention. They clearly have ulterior, inefficient and selfish motives.

If they cared about fiscal constraint, they would push to lower the car and parking subsidies to match transportation, or they would leave the transit subsidy the same.

2:19PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

To much crime on these things anyway.

11:54AM PST on Dec 22, 2011

Why, of course! They couldn't leave out commuters in their ravaging of the country's people, could they? I suspect they want to make sure the climate crisis is so far along, not even a fully dedicated green congress would have a chance of saving the earth. Really though, they don't have to work so hard at it. I do believe we have long since gone past critical mass, and it's now just a ever-hastening rush to oblivion for all species.

Sayonara.

10:06AM PST on Dec 22, 2011

I already feel it!

8:11AM PST on Dec 22, 2011

I live in a rural area with NO public transportation. I must drive everywhere. Why not put a price freeze on gasoline? First lower it, then freeze the prices...

7:18AM PST on Dec 22, 2011

Higher tax benefits for cars and parking lots for cars and less tax benefits for people doing the right thing by commuting. That's just brilliant.

6:29AM PST on Dec 22, 2011

Keevin S. - here you are again with the same post that I have seen in two other articles so far.

You must think it's very profound (NOT!).

What it actually is... is SOUR GRAPES from someone that isn't getting what he wants!

I know - I know - we all had high hopes after falling for Obama's hopey changey crap. We should have known better!

The Democrats are all for the "social welfare" programs - that obviously have to be paid for by TAXES!

Yet here we now have a problem - a social welfare problem that actually involves TAXES!

Oops! What a quandry! Should the Democrats be FOR this - which would reduce the available taxes to fund those social welfare programs, or should they be against it - which would provide more taxes for those social welfare programs.

It seems to me that it's one of those "foot in mouth" situations! But then that's what Democrats are famous for. Many of them only manage to change feet whenever they open their mouths!

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