Promoting cars over mass transit

So last year (2014) I spent just over $2650 on transit. I take BART (light rail) in to work every day, and it adds up. It's mass transit, which means I can read or sleep or work, instead of having to drive. Transit is also better than driving in pretty much every other way, which is why I was glad that the government tried to incentivize it by allowing people to claim up to $245/month for money spent on it.

Actually, early in 2014, it dropped to $130/month, but near the end of the year, the government pushed through a retroactive increase for 2014 (which immediately expired in 2015).

This is understandable: the government is broke, we're in a recession, budget is too tight, etc. My problem isn't that they stopped helping transit. It's that they did it while increasing the help for drivers.

Transit drops almost to half of the car subsidy

So the same change that reduced transit from $245/month to $130 also increased the parking deduction from $245/month to $250. This is insane. By almost any metric, transit is better than driving:

  • TRAFFIC - Taking transit means less people on the roads, which means less traffic. Simple
  • POLLUTION - Cars pollute. Carpooling pollutes less. Transit pollutes much less than that.
  • LAND USE - With less traffic comes less land used for highways and more land used for buildings. Walkable cities (with higher density that can support transit) means more convenient access.
  • TAXES - Higher density can be achieved with transit than with cars, which means higher land values, which means more taxes. Also, if a given acre of land is road, it costs the city money. If it's a building, it makes the city money.
  • SERVICES - Higher density means more efficiency providing government and non-government services

Also, if you make driving cheaper, it makes more people drive, which makes all these issues (traffic, pollution, parking problems, gas prices) worse.

Government response

I e-mailed my senator, Dianne Feinstein, about this. I did this mostly because I was hoping to become a statistic ("look, we got 85 emails about that transit subsidy"), but I was pleasantly surprised to get a reply. Senator Feinstein co-sponsored the "Commuter Benefits Equity Act of 2013" (S. 1116) bill which is languishing in the Senate Finance Committee, probalby never to be seen again.

While I don't really expect this to be addressed anytime soon, I can still hope. I also don't care how they address it, it's the disparity that bothers me. If you're going to pay for people's commute with tax money, biasing it towards cars at the expense of transit is just dumb. Cut both subsidies, balance them back out, or take a stand on the other benefits of transit and skew them that way.