Federal workers in the Washington area may soon be able to use their tax-free transit benefits to pay for ride-hailing apps and bike-sharing program for the duration of SafeTrack.
But it remains doubtful whether they’ll be able to push through such a bill in the dwindling time before Congress begins its seven-week break on July 15.
“We’re going to have a crowded schedule, and there will be a few late nights coming up, so there’s always a possibility,” Connolly said over the phone on Friday.
But, Connolly added, if Congress doesn’t get to the bill before the break and instead picks it up in the fall, it may be possible to tweak the legislation so that it applies retroactively from the start of the SafeTrack maintenance period last month.
The federal government’s public transit subsidy allows workers to use up to $255 per month, tax-free, for public transit costs.
The benefits would only apply for the duration of SafeTrack; if the maintenance program wraps up anytime before June 1, 2017, the expanded options for transit benefits would end early.
What’s clear is that Connolly doesn’t want this expanded set of commuting options for transit benefits to become a permanent thing.
“This was introduced purely to try to provide another tool in the management of SafeTrack … It was not designed in any way, shape, or form to hurt Metro,” Connolly said. “I would not support extending this beyond SafeTrack. I do not want to subsidize non-transit behavior patterns.”
In preparing the region for SafeTrack service interruptions, Metro officials have pleaded with customers to avoid using the system if possible and to find other methods of commuting during segment shutdowns.
“During a time when WMATA is getting its house in order, federal commuters have been frustrated at their lack of options for getting in to work,” Meadows said in a statement. “This bill will allow federal workers to expand their commuting options and not require them to depend on a sole, unreliable from of transportation.”
The bill allows for a pretty broad interpretation of what new services would be able to qualify for transit benefits: Commuters must use a “transportation network company,” which is defined as “a corporation, limited liability company, partnership, sole proprietor, or any other entity that utilizes innovative mobility technologies to provide alternatives to driving alone, including car-share, bikeshare, carpool or vanpool, multimodal fare payment system, app-based mobility providers, and other innovative projects.”
Under the proposed law, federal employees would only be able to use transit benefits to pay for ride-sharing services if they agree in writing that they will not also use the tax-free parking subsidy for driving to work.
This isn’t the first time that members of Congress have pushed to allow federal workers to incorporate rideshare into their daily routines: Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) recently introduced a bill that would allow the federal government to use Uber and Lyft in normal business travel.