In Congress Doesn't Act, Riders Could Lose More Than $1,000 A Year

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Time is running out in the battle to let commuters keep more of their money.

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Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Monday that he is urging lawmakers to approve an extension to the federal commuter tax benefit beyond its Dec. 31 deadline.

More than 700,000 commuters in the metro area — who rely on bus, subway and trains — are currently allowed to claim up to $245 a month in transit fees pre-tax, saving them $1,000 to $1,300 a year in income taxes. In all, the tax break saves Tri-State Area commuters an estimated $330 million a year, Schumer said.

“We cannot let the transit benefit get knocked off the tracks,” Schumer said during a news conference at Grand Central Terminal. “I’m announcing my plan to enact the Commuters Benefit Equity Act before the end of the year.”

If the tax benefit is not extended, people who drive to work could still claim the $245-a-month benefit, but mass transit riders would only be able to deduct $130 a month, which would increase the amount of income tax they pay.

“My legislation will actually extend the $245 benefit that New Yorker commuters so desperately need and make sure it’s extended equally to mass transit users and those who drive to work,” Schumer said.

“It is unfair to say that those who use a train or bus to get to work should not get the same deduction (as drivers).”

Under Schumer’s proposal, the mass transit benefit would cover:

  • The $112 cost of an unlimited 30-day subway MetroCard
  • The $220 monthly cost of an express bus
  • The $220 monthly cost of an Long Island Rail Road ticket from Garden City to Penn Station
  • The $222 monthly cost of a Metro-North Railroad pass from Bronxville to Grand Central.
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Commuters said the tax break goes a long way in their daily lives.

“It buys groceries for families,” Francine Shankar, of Larchmont, told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.

“I think it means a lot to a lot of commuters, as long as you can deal with the red tape that comes with that,” Mark Bruckmann, of Hastings, told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Schumer said he’d like to make the tax break permanent, but that might be a tough sell on Capitol Hill. In fact, he admitted it might be challenging to convince the House of Representatives to back the extension at all.

He said he is going to attempt to use his clout as a member of the Senate Finance and Banking committees to attach the measure to a broader tax-extension bill that lawmakers would be more likely to support.

Mass transit advocate Jesse Kafka of vRide, a ride-sharing company, said the legislative fight over the commuter tax benefit is not a partisan issue.

“It’s a rural-urban issue,” he told Diamond. “Many congressmen in rural areas are not as familiar with the options.”

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