Pretax commuter benefits slashed by Congress (San Francisco Chronicle)
Congress went home for the holidays and couldn’t be bothered to extend a tax benefit that allowed commuters to take $230 from their paychecks tax-free each month to pay for transit passes. That amount now drops to $125 per month, the amount it was prior to 2009 when it was raised as part of the federal stimulus bill. Meanwhile, Congress allowed the tax benefit for commuters paying to park to rise slightly to $240 per month.
The recession squeeze on buses and trains (New York Times)
This opinion piece neatly sums up the conundrum facing transit agencies across the country: even as ridership has risen in recent years, funding has been in short supply — forcing agencies to cut service and/or raise fares. Excerpt:
The problem is, financing for mass transit has not kept pace as cash-strapped state and local governments limit their support. The federal government, which provides only about 17 percent of financing for transit systems, should be doing a lot more, particularly since nearly 60 percent of rides are related to work, with commuters from every income level.
Of the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax, only 2.86 cents goes to public transit and almost all of the rest is reserved for highways. Although Congress has increased transit support in recent years, it is still too stingy to maintain stable services in many areas. The Federal Transit Administration has estimated that to bring all of the nation’s networks up to good repair — not expanding them, but mostly fixing what’s already there — would take more than $78 billion.
Check out the accompanying chart that shows transit trips have outpaced the number of miles that Americans are driving.
The weather is just plain freaky as of late. The last two winters in the Sierra brought big snows. But December 2011 was abnormally dry and Yosemite National Park took the rare step of re-opening Tioga Pass Road on Dec. 19. That has brought ice skaters to beautiful Tenaya Lake, which is usually off-limits until the road opens in late spring or early summer. Check out the video: