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SF officials leading charge to restore transit benefit

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After a tax break that public transit riders can use to pay for fares was cut, an uproar lead to a congressional committee recommend that the benefit be fully restored. - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • After a tax break that public transit riders can use to pay for fares was cut, an uproar lead to a congressional committee recommend that the benefit be fully restored.

For a city that prides itself on a transit-first policy, one could only have expected uproar when a tax break for transit riders was cut while another for drivers increased.

City officials, including Mayor Ed Lee, are encouraging US Congress to fully restore the commuter benefit program, which allows employees to make pre-tax deductions to pay for public transit costs, like Muni, BART, Caltrain and vanpools. 

“Reducing benefits for transit riders while increasing incentives for people to drive single-occupancy vehicles to work is moving in the wrong direction, and does not support The City’s Transit First policy,” Lee’s spokeswoman
Christine Falvey said.  

At the beginning of the year, the pre-tax amount someone could use for transit fares under the federal commuter benefit program was reduced from $230 to $125 per month after Congress failed to extend the benefit at the higher level. The pre-tax limit for parking, however, was increased from $230 per month to $240 per month, a cost-of-living adjustment.

“Congress’ failure to maintain parity between the transit and parking benefits results in a significant increase in their commuting costs and annual payroll taxes,” said a Department of Environment document under discussion Monday.

The urging of Congress is seemingly paying. On Feb. 7, the Senate Committee on Finance approved legislation that would reverse the transit benefit cuts. It would require approval by Congress to go into effect.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com