Mass transit subsidy drops by 47 percent in new year

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - For hundreds of thousands of mass transit riders, New Year's Day means that the daily commute is more expensive.

Congress failed to extend the existing federal transit benefit limit before 2013 ended, meaning that the amount of tax-free money workers can set aside for transit each month has dropped substantially.

That benefit decreased from $245 to $130 - a drop of nearly 47 percent. Meanwhile, those who drive to and from work saw their benefit go up to $250.

Dan Nueburger, the president of Commuter Services for Wage Works, estimates that up to 500,000 people in the D.C. area will be impacted by the change.

"For those who took full advantage of the benefit in 2013, the cost of their commute is going to increase by $550," Nueburger said.

The change is a major concern for WMATA. Already facing tight budget constraints and considering another fare hike, the agency fears that ridership could drop several percentage points.

That could equate to millions in lost revenue for Washington's transit authority.

"It's something we are watching very closely as we plan for our next fiscal year and as we head into fare hearings at the end of January," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

The change isn't limited to Metro riders. For commuters who take MARC trains to and from Washington from Maryland, the out-of-pocket costs are going up too.

For example, someone who commutes from Edgewood, Md. to Union Station will pay $456 more in 2014. It's an increase of 28 percent.

Metro has been lobbying local members of Congress to support bills in both houses that would fix the disparity and restore subsidy levels to 2013 levels.