Transit subsidies: How will you handle cutbacks?

January 12, 2012

We asked:

The monthly tax-free maximum that the federal government and other employers can pay for their employees to use public transit in their commuting fell to $125 this month because Congress did not extend the $230 level that’s been in effect for several years. Will that affect your decision regarding your travel to and from work? How?

You said:

I recently switched to public transportation because gas prices were costing me at least $80 a week to drive and park in my building.

My transit costs are $224 a month, so it made sense to switch. Now that the maximum transit benefit is $125, I may go back to driving and get a free parking space.

It’s more convenient to have my car, and I can get to work faster than with public transportation. Without the full benefit, I might as well have the flexibility of having my car with me to run errands during lunch or right after work.

Once I use up the money in my personal purse on my SmarTrip card, I’ll make the decision. But honestly, I’ll probably go back to driving.

Here’s to hoping that the maximum transit benefit is raised to a more realistic value.

— Lawrence Laws

Department of Justice

Bowie

The lower commuter benefits will have no effect on my commuting habits. Currently, I commute 7.5 miles to BWI Airport, then use the MARC train and Metro to reach my job at L’Enfant Plaza. With a $125/month subsidy, my out-of-pocket expenses amount to $103. My alternative commute involves driving to the closest Metro station, New Carrollton, and riding the Orange Line to L’Enfant. With the subsidy, my out-of-pocket expenses amount to $96. The commute time for each option is roughly the same. This appears to be a financial wash, but it does not take into account the increased fuel cost, wear and tear on my vehicle and personal stress from what would be a 73-mile round trip by car.

I have not driven to New Carrollton in years and have no plans to do so, unless the MARC service drastically increases its fees to make it prohibitive to ride the trains. Whether one uses commuter trains, buses or the Metro, I would counsel all commuters to first do the financial math before turning to private vehicles for daily commutes.

— Frank Vojik

Federal Aviation Administration

Glen Burnie

My commuting pattern changed significantly since our Metro benefits were cut. I no longer ride the Metrorail and bus home every day. Instead, I bike 8 miles to East Falls Church and then take a bus. My commute time was normally one hour from work and is now 90 minutes.

— Mark Freeman

Department of Agriculture

Northern Virginia

I am new to the area and was grateful for mass transit. I was also impressed with the “slug lines” in the area. I took advantage of both the bus and Metro to get to work. The $230 was just enough to cover most of the month. However, with the current administration freezing pay and then cutting the transit assistance, I will take advantage of the slug lines. I think this is a tragedy because, with fewer people on transit and more slugging, I’m sure it will cause the transit system to eventually increase fares, which will in turn cause more people to use alternative travel arrangements.

I’ve surveyed my office, and most of us feel the same way. With the pay freeze and everything else going up around us (food, gas, etc.), I really don’t have the extra money to support the transit system. During the winter months, I will slug when the weather allows it and use mass transit only on bad weather days or near the end of the month when I know I have enough to ride the bus without it coming out of my paycheck.

— Cheryl Franklin

Pentagon

Woodbridge

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