Congress gives transit riders a break

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

The legislative flurry that averted the “fiscal cliff” also provided a small break for transit riders. Congress raised the amount of pretax dollars that a commuter can use to purchase transit rides to $240 per month, equaling a similar benefit available to those who pay for parking.

The provision generates a tax break for users by letting them pay for transit or parking before taxes are deducted from their paychecks, which has the effect of slightly reducing the size of the government’s bite. Forbes magazine’s Ashlea Ebeling did the math and said the additional savings to a typical rider (if he or she uses the maximum benefit) will be $552. That eases some of the sting from the payroll tax hike that Congress allowed to take effect.

Some history: the transit benefit was $230 a month (same as parking) after passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. But that expired on Dec. 31, 2011, rolling the transit maximum back to $120 while parking stayed at $230. Needless to say, that rankled transit advocates. The new transportation authorization law enacted last summer raised the parking benefit to $240 but the transit benefit only to $125.

Congress made the latest increase in transit benefits retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012, which means Port Authority riders who purchased Zone 2 passes after the July 1 fare increase are eligible for some back benefits. Before the increase, the federal benefit covered most of the $130 monthly cost of a Zone 2 pass, but on July 1 the price went to $146.25. There’s some complicated math to be done, but my back-of-the-napkin reckoning is that there’s an additional $50 or so in savings to be had.

And no good news comes without a razor’s edge: the new benefit expires at the end of this year unless Congress renews it.

The president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, Michael Melaniphy, said this:

“On behalf of the millions of Americans who ride public transportation, I commend Congress for passing legislation to increase the public transit commuter benefit, and making it equal to the parking benefit. With parity between public transit and parking benefits, people have the ability to make the best reasonable transportation choice.

“For 2013, there is no longer a financial bias in the federal tax code against public transit use. This has always been an issue of fairness, and public transit advocates are pleased that the federal tax code will again provide transit riders with the same tax benefits according to those who drive to work.

“It is our hope that in the new Congress, legislation will pass to make the public transit commuter benefit parity permanent." 



Road work updates

Peebles Road drainage work will continue through Jan. 25, keeping the road closed between Hemlock Drive and Presidential Drive, with only local traffic getting in.

Overhead sign inspections will occur today and Friday at the following sites and times: Today — Parkway West Carnegie off-ramp, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Route 51 in both directions across the Elizabeth Bridge, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday — Route 910 (Indianola Road) at the Route 28 interchange in Harmar, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m; Bigelow Boulevard and Bedford Avenue in the area of Crosstown Boulevard, Downtown Pittsburgh, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; West Carson Street in the area of the West End Bridge, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Short-term lane closures are possible on Freeport Road in the area of the Hulton Bridge from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through Jan. 11 as crews taking borings for the upcoming replacement of the bridge.



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