Equity for Commuters

It’s no secret that in the battle for federal transportation dollars, cars and highways usually win out over trains and buses. That’s because of the growing clout of the car-loving Sunbelt and the ever-diminishing number of congressmen from mass-transit states like New York and New Jersey.

So it was something of a miracle when, five years ago, Congress approved a tax benefit for mass-transit commuters on par with drivers who pay for parking. Both sets of commuters received a benefit of $245 per month, meaning they could put pretax funds into an account to pay for their out-of-pocket costs. But that benefit has been reduced to $130 per month for mass-transit riders, while it was raised to $250 for drivers.

Local congressional delegations have pledged to work together to restore equity to the tax benefit during the coming session. It’s imperative that this sort of regional cooperation take place and not just on this issue but on the range of concerns that link together the old industrial states of the Northeast and Midwest. Every census brings bad news to states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and others, while states like Florida, Texas and others only gain clout with each passing decade.

Regional cooperation is imperative, and it can begin with a concerted effort on behalf of mass-transit users this year.