Federal transit subsidies drop with start of New Year

WASHINGTON – Some Metro commuters may want to ring in the new year by rummaging around the couch cushions.

The federal transit allowance has been slashed dramatically, which stands to impact the region’s commute — whether by car or transit.

Transportation planners have warned of a “devastating effect” following the implementation of new transportation allowances, which took effect Jan. 1.

Inaction by Congress led to the transit allowance being cut from $245 per month to $130 per month. Meanwhile, parking benefits increase from $245 to $250 per month.

“The concern is that it appears Congress is incentivizing commuters to drive as opposed to taking transit,” says Caroline Laurin, a Metro spokeswoman. “That really affects those who might be on the fence.”

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

“This will be a tragedy for the region,” Tom Downs, chair of the Metro board, said in advance the change. “It has the potential for adding to the congestion on our roads and increasing our operating costs at Metro.”

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 saw ridership drop due to sequestration-related furloughs and the government shutdown in 2013.

The expiring transit subsidy rate was a temporary increase as part of a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

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