Rail service company Amtrak posted its annual financial report on November 25, and progress was reported all around. Revenue ($3.2 billion) and ridership (31.6 million passengers) are up over the previous year, and the operating loss of $227 million was the lowest since way back in 1973. However, the loss would have been much greater if not for payments from states and the federal government, which pony up nearly $2 billion annually to support infrastructure upgrades and other costs.
Amtrak is profitable in the Northeast, where it is viewed as indispensable for commuting along the I-95 corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C., but runs far in the red elsewhere, especially on long-distance routes. For fiscal year 2015, Amtrak has requested a federal grant of $1.6 billion, and the number gets higher each year to counter the tunnels, bridges, and tracks that continue to fall into disrepair.
No Free Parking
Perpetually deficit-running Amtrak is a favorite target for fiscal conservatives, such as Mitt Romney, who frequently spoke of defunding the service during the 2012 presidential election. However, the federal government is actually funding the parking of private vehicles at a much higher level. According to a new report by the TransitCenter and the Frontier Group, employers providing tax-free parking allowances costs the federal government $7.3 billion annually in lost revenue.
The Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS’s) tax code allows parking allowances of up to $250 per month sans taxes, which is nearly twice the amount allowable for taking public transit ($130), and more than 10 times the allowance for bicycle commuters ($20). The study claims that the tax abatement adds approximately 820,000 commuters who would otherwise find other means of getting to work, including motorists who increase use of roads, another hidden cost to taxpayers.
The True Costs
According to Streetsblog.org, Congress is violating the IRS maximum parking allowance by providing free street parking to staffers in pricey downtown D.C. So we have CAFE regulations aimed at reducing transportation emissions by requiring carmakers to invest billions to produce increasingly fuel efficient vehicles, while at the same time, we subsidize the use of private vehicles in congested urban areas at a cost more than 3 times the total spent to support Amtrak. Taken together, these policies can be viewed as somewhere between inconsistent and outright contradictory.
Tags: Carbon Emissions, Clean Transportation, High-Speed Rail, Policy & Regulation, Smart Transportation Program
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