Drop in federal transit subsidy could worsen congestion

WASHINGTON – A change in the federal transit allowance could dramatically affect the region’s commute no matter the mode, car, carpool or Metro.

Transportation planners warn of a “devastating effect” following the implementation of new transportation allowances that hit Jan. 1.

Without action from Congress, the transit allowance will be cut from $245 per month to $130 per month. Meanwhile, parking benefits will increase from $245 to $250 per month.

More than half of weekday Metrorail riders recieve a transit benefit, through both pre-tax deductions and direct employer subsidies, according to WMATA.

“This will be a tragedy for the region if this actually happens,” says Tom Downs, chair of the Metro Board. “It has the potential for adding to the congestion on our roads and increasing our operating costs at Metro.”

Leaders from across the region are frantically trying to communicate the potential impact to Congress.

The increase in parking benefits, which could encourage more commuters to drive instead of taking public transportation, combined with the cut to transit subsidies threatens to be another setback for Metro. The transit agency has seen ridership drop due to sequestration-related furloughs and the government shutdown this year.

“Certainly we do not want to go down that road or any road like that,” says Metro’s General Manager Richard Sarles. “What we want to see is Congress to maintain parity between the two.”

The current transit subsidy rate was a temporary increase as part of a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. The rate expires at the end of the year.

Furloughs and the shutdown have also hurt federal workers and contractors, many of whom are still recovering financially from the 16-day shutdown.

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