A massive transportation bill approved in the Senate Wednesday restores federal transit benefits that dropped at the start of the year, making them equal to the federal parking perks.
The transportation reauthorization bill calls for boosting the transit benefits that workers can receive either as a pre-tax paycheck deduction or outright perk from a maximum of $125 a month to $240.
That could be a boon to local transit agencies and riders because many commuters rely on the benefit to pay for Metro, Virginia Railway Express, MARC or other transit trips. At VRE, about 68 percent of the system's riders use some form of the transit benefits, while Metro estimates that some 270,000 use its SmartBenefits program. Many federal workers get the benefit directly so their entire rides are covered.
Metro had forecast that losing the full benefit would cost the agency 2.8 percent of its rail ridership. VRE has noticed about 200 fewer trips each day.
The bill would even make the upgrade retroactive to Jan. 1, when the reduced level took effect, though experts have said that would logistically impossible to enact.
The deal isn’t done yet, though. The House has to approve its version of the bill, then differences must be settled between the two versions.
“There’s no reason for Congress to grant preferential treatment for individuals driving to work over those taking public transportation,” said Gerard Bridi, president of Edenred USA, a national provider of commuter benefits. “With gas prices soaring and more people turning to public transit, Congress should encourage commuters to use public transportation, not penalize them.”