For over a decade the Federal government has allowed transit riders to use pre-tax money to pay for their ride to and from work. A benefit of greatest interest and benefit to commuter rail riders who often pay more over $100 a month for their passes.
Unfortunately, due to congressional inaction, in 2012 the tax code subsidized driving to work over transit by allowing employees to spend up to $230 per month in parking expenses tax-free but only allowing $125 per month for public transportation. Attempts to restore parity between these programs foundered in the choppy seas of Congress.
However, in one of the lesser-known elements of the fiscal cliff deal, the two benefits have now been set at equal levels again ($240/month) for 2012 (retroactively, although there are very few people who will be able to take advantage of this) and 2013. A welcome change that should encourage employees to make the desirable shift to public transportation.
So transit riders who spend more than $125 per month on public transportation should contact their human resources department right away and hop onboard this new benefit. And it is indeed a benefit – we all gain when folks commuting to work leave their cars at home, reducing the amount of pollution traveling our roads and being emitted into the air. Solid transit infrastructure and service driving and being driven by regular ridership allows families to live with fewer (or no) cars, saving money, reducing pollution and building cooler and better communities.