Congress is about to let a tax benefit for transit riders expire, further codifying the federal government’s favoritism toward personal automobiles and it’s disdain for cities. Without action by the congress by year’s end, the tax benefit for commuter parking will INCREASE from $230 to $240 per month while the transit commuter benefit is set to DECREASE from $230 to $120 per month.
Parity between the two tax benefits was established in 2010, but that provision expires this year. Now, as our cities cut transit services and increase fares, the government is set to impose a de facto fare increase on commuters using this benefit. They are undermining transit systems that are publicly owned by providing financial incentives to drive. This causes increased wear and tear on publicly owned roads, not to mention the negative effect suburban commuters have on a city’s pedestrian and transit conditions. The incentives are all wrong – these commuter tax breaks should encourage drivers to switch to high-capacity and often underutilized public transit systems while taking pressure off our traffic-clogged freeways.
To demonstrate just how lopsided this policy is, I took a look at the cost of a monthly parking pass at San Francisco’s Fifth and Mission Garage – for the sake of this exercise, let’s say a commuter from Santa Clara parks here Monday through Friday while working at her job South of Market. The monthly rate for a reserved spot at this garage is $325, meaning our Santa Clara commuter will be encouraged to deduct 74% of her parking costs by the federal government if she takes advantage of the 2012 tax break. The other option for our Santa Clara commuter is to take Caltrain from Santa Clara to 4th and King streets, and then take Muni to her job South of Market – the monthly Caltrain and Muni pass for this trip is $289. Taking advantage of the projected 2012 transit tax break assuming no congressional action, she can only deduct 42% percent of her transit pass spending. The incentive to drive is clear.
Contact your senators and representatives using this handy tool from Transportation for America and urge them to create positive incentives for our cities by increasing the transit tax break.