Report: Feds Subsidize Parking Six Times as Much as Transit

tax_expenditure_employee_transportation_benefits.png(Image: Subsidyscope)

"Subsidy" is a word used quite often in transportation policy-making circles, whether by road acolytes who claim (falsely)
that highways are not federally subsidized because of the gas tax or by
transit boosters who lament Washington’s unceasing focus on paying for
more local asphalt.

But the subsidy debate often overlooks the government tax
exemption for workers’ parking expenses. And federal parking subsidies
are skyrocketing, as Subsidyscope revealed yesterday in its data-packed
report on
U.S. transport spending: the value of tax-free parking will reach $3
billion this year, compared with $500 million in subsidies for transit

The imbalance might be corrected if the government
treated parking and transit equally when it came to tax benefits.
Workers can write off a maximum of slightly more than $200 in monthly
parking benefits, while the maximum tax-free value of transit passes is
about $100 less per month.

Subsidyscope, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Sunlight Foundation, pored over federal records to produce a searchable database
of transportation spending dating back to the year 2000. Their
researchers’ conclusions found that highways received $30 billion in
federal support last year — more than three times as much as transit,
which got $9 billion.

How much of that $30 billion was a
subsidy? It’s tough to say, according to Subsidyscope, since state DOTs
are not required to report the details of how federal road aid is
distributed. Still, the overwhelming majority of federal transport
programs contain subsidies (see the chart after the jump for more

A more classic example of federal subsidy is
programs that transfer the risk of new projects onto the federal
government. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation
Act (TIFIA), which offers
loans to states and localities at a low interest rate, is the transport
sector’s major source of credit subsidies from Washington — and the
majority of TIFIA loans go to highway projects.

faads_subs_total.png(Image: Subsidyscope)

  • “the maximum tax-free value of transit passes is about $100 less per month.”

    With the stimulus package, the tax free limit on transit has been raised to $230.

  • Wuss912

    and i only qualify for 20$ a month while riding my bicycle…. WTF

  • And that parking subsidy is just a partial value, since it is just the tax benefit of reimbursed parking expenses … the tax break for the construction of on-site “free” employee parking is omitted. Also omitted is the implicit transfer from property owners via zoning parking requirements.

  • First, I would be perfectly happy to see gas taxes match whatever the true cost of highway construction and maintenance is. If they have to be a dollar a gallon, fine. I don’t like having others be forced pay for my lifestyle, which I sense differentiates me from most of the readers of this site.

    But the transit “just” got $9 billion, which is implied to be less in comparison to the $30 billion in highways, is astoundingly disingenuous use of statistics.

    I am not sure I trust these figures you cite – my wild guess is they loaded highways with a lot of soft costs and didn’t load transit with the same stuff, but I will accept the $30 and $9 billion figures for sake of argument.

    In 2006, according to the DOT Bureau of Transportation Statistics (Table 1-37), here were the passenger miles for highway vs. transit (in millions):

    Highway: 4,933,689
    Transit: 52,154

    This means, if your figures are correct, there is a $0.006 per passenger mile subsidy for driving and a $0.173 per passenger mile subsidy for transit. This means the transit subsidy is 28.8 times larger than the driving subsidy.

    As I said, I am fine with setting gas taxes to push the driving subsidy to zero, but lets not pretend that transit isn’t massively more subsidized than driving.

  • Alia

    Wait wait wait a second Coyote – you are spouting some bad math here. If the POINT of highways is to move people over long distances and the POINT of transit is to connect people within a region to concentrated jobs/housing centers, then OF COURSE there were way more passenger miles on highways. This measure is a set-up made to make transit look bad.

    Also, using any measure of current ridership makes for a bad argument due to the half-century of heavy highway funding paired with spotty transit funding. If you owned both a Lamborghini and a 1986 Pinto Wagon, would you complain about the Pinto not being able to keep up?

  • earlapricot

    Re: “I don’t like having others be forced pay for my lifestyle”:

    Pedestrians, Cyclists, and Transit users pay a lot more than money for the motoring lifestyle of others. We have to suffer from health problems caused by living near or breathing near exhaust fumes on a regular basis (e.g. while riding our bikes on the roads). We have to walk *much* longer distances because of all of the space car infrastructure takes up. All of our destinations are spread much farther apart than makes sense for pedestrians especially. We have to face the dangers of walking across intersections and cycling near large lethal speeding metal machines on roads which were not set up with cyclists in mind. Transit users have to put up with the congestion and delays caused by far too many private automobiles trying to use the same pathways.

    Accommodating the private automobiles in our cities simply does not make sense and is not in the best interest of the city’s residents. To me it’s plain as day that walking, biking, and taking transit are far more city-friendly modes of transport, and these should be prioritized far and away above private automobiles.