Increased federal transit benefits cut from transportation bill

Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

A federal transit benefit that tens of thousands of Washington-area Metro riders rely upon will not be restored to higher levels in the compromise transportation bill that Congress is expected to approve on Friday.

The benefit, which riders can either outright or as a pre-tax paycheck deduction, had been raised to up to $230 per month as part of the stimulus programs to match parking benefits. But on Jan. 1, it dropped back down to a maximum of $125 per month.

The Senate had called for raising the transit portion to match the $240 maximum given for parking, but the House version didn't have it and it was lost amid the compromises, according to the joint explanatory summary.

"I can't understand what's going on with that," said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat. "I'm not sure why we would want to encourage more driving. It's subsidizing driving."

Locally, it could be a big hit. Virginia Railway Express has attributed a slight dip in ridership to the reduction in benefits. Metro had forecast in December that it would cause Metrorail ridership to drop 2.8 percent. As of Thursday, though, General Manager Richard Sarles said he hadn't seen enough analysis six months after the change to know how the lower dollar amounts are affecting Metro.

Even so, the lower levels will become especially relevant in coming days as Metro is jacking up fares starting on Sunday.

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