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Hey commuters, your taxes are going up next year

Dan Weissmann Dec 30, 2013
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Lots of companies, especially in big cities, have plans that let workers put aside pre-tax money for transit. Starting January 1, a change in the tax code will lower the amount they can put aside by more than 45 percent, costing the heaviest users more than $1,000 a year.  

It amounts to a small cut in public support for transit — the public policy equivalent of an insult to Mom and apple pie. 

“Taking public transportation is good for everyone,” says Robertson Williams from the Tax Policy Center in Washington, DC. “It takes cars off the road. It reduces pollution. It reduces transit times for almost everyone.”

So people like Williams get annoyed that this transit tax break gets reduced, but a corresponding break for parking gets a little bump up.

One survey shows the transit benefit does get people on buses and subways:  About a fifth of those who signed up said they’d previously driven to work.

The maximum amount you can set aside is dropping from $245 a month to $130, which some riders may not even notice: A monthly pass on the New York subway only costs $112. People with long rides on commuter trains will feel the hit.

The Association for Commuter Transportation, which is supported by companies that administer the transit-benefit program, wants the tax break extended.  Jason Pavluchuk, a lobbyist for the group, says he doesn’t get pushback on policy.  However, getting Congress to act can take heavy lifting.  “People aren’t, you know, marching on Washington to have their transit benefits,” he says.

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