Congress Wants You to Drive to DC, Not Take the Train

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The MARC train is the best way to get from Baltimore to DC. Not only do you save money if you take the train instead of driving, but you also keep one more car off the road–which means less pollution and traffic for everyone else.

That’s why it’s frustrating to read Emily Badger’s Washington Post blog about how as a federal employee who lives in Baltimore and commutes to DC, she actually loses money if she takes public transit. That’s because Congress provides a $245 monthly commuter benefit for those who drive cars to pay for parking, but only $130 for public transit passengers. And it adds up: federal public transit commuters end up paying more than $560 more in taxes per year than their car-driving counterparts, according to one study.

“The federal commuter benefit is just one of many often hidden ways that government incentivizes people to drive cars (a few others: subsidized fuel, under-priced parking, an outdated gas tax),” Badger writes. “If we nudged more commuters toward public transit, we could relieve congestion, reduce pollution, and even improve commutes for those people who do continue to drive. Instead, federal policy does the opposite.”

There’s a movement afoot to change this policy, either by making the benefit for public transit commuters equal to that of car drivers, or perhaps even to make it bigger. This is especially important as the cost of public transit continues to rise. “Mass transit is the lifeblood of the New York area, and this provision helps keep it flowing and affordable,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, who’s spearheading the effort. The same could be said of many urban areas, Baltimore included. But who knows if even something this sensible will make it through Congress as things stand now.



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