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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 12/17/2010

Congress extends transit benefits

By Robert Thomson

[Updated.]
I've got more answers to your questions about the upcoming changes in the transit benefits program, with help from Angela Gates, a Metro spokeswoman.

The House last night passed HR 4853, which includes a one-year extension on the $230 per month limit for employer-sponsored transit benefits. Before passage of the bill, which also has cleared the Senate, the monthly limit had been scheduled to return to $120 in January. The bill goes to President Obama for signature.

The other, more complicated change in transit benefits still is scheduled to take effect in January. The SmartBenefits program, complying with an IRS rule, will require employers and employees in the program to divide the benefits they download to SmarTrip cards into separate sections for transit riding and transit parking.

Let's do a little more Q&A on this. After that, please fill out the online form and share your experiences with the changes.

Q. What happens if I didn't set up a parking account for January and I may need to drive to Metro? Can't use cash, so what will happen?

A. Add value to your SmarTrip card to pay for parking. Personal funds added to the card can be used for transit or parking.

Q. If I don't use SmartBenefits and don't have a benefit to download onto my card, will the fare gate, the bus fare box or the parking gate machine still show me the value of what I added directly to the card, as it does now? Or must I look elsewhere for that information?

A. If you do not participate in SmartBenefits, the bus fare box, fare gate and parking target will show your personal stored value as it does now.

Q. Once my transit benefit for the month is exhausted, will the fare gate or fare box then show me what's in my general fund?

A. Yes, once you exhaust your transit benefit, your personal stored value will be displayed.

I don't believe we've exhausted riders' questions on this topic, so keep them coming. You can write to me at drgridlock@washpost.com. But please look at the new form we've added below in which you can share your experiences.

  
  
  

By Robert Thomson  | December 17, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, SmartBenefits  
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Comments

Didn't I read yesterday that the transit subsidy extension was included in the tax bill that passed last night? So aren't we back to the $230 subsidy for 2011?

Posted by: bmp246 | December 17, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

They have to pass the bill so they can know what's in it.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | December 17, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Thanks to bmp246 for pointing out House passage of the tax bill, with its one-year extension of the $230 a month transit subsidy. I've gone back into the posting and updated it to account for passage.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | December 17, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

My employer, a federal agency, has not provided any information about the rollover/removal options at all. Your form does not have an answer for people like me. The first question really needs 3 possible replies so you can get a sense of how many employers are not addressing this.

Posted by: busgirl1 | December 17, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

My employer, a federal agency, has not provided any information about the rollover/removal options at all. Your form does not have an answer for people like me. The first question really needs 3 possible replies so you can get a sense of how many employers are not addressing this.

Posted by: busgirl1 | December 17, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

My employer, a federal agency, has not provided any information about the rollover/removal options at all. Your form does not have an answer for people like me. The first question really needs 3 possible replies so you can get a sense of how many employers are not addressing this.

Posted by: busgirl1 | December 17, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

My wife works for a law firm based in another city and receives the pre-tax transit benefit via a special MasterCard that she uses at the Farecard machine to add value to her SmarTrip card. I assume they do it that way because it is more convenient to administer transit benefits the same way for all their offices. I normally drive her to the Metro, so there is no issue with parking money v. subway fare money. But I'm wondering what happens if she drives. I assume that since her transit benefit is not paid out through the SmartBenefits program, the system will treat the entire amount as being what WMATA calls "personal funds," i.e., the same as if she had used post-tax money out of her wallet (or her regular charge card) to add value to the SmarTrip card, and so she need not worry about the segregation of the two amounts? Anyone know? The people who administer the program for her employer aren't particularly helpful, probably because they're not located in DC.

Posted by: 1995hoo | December 17, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

+1 on busgirl1's suggestion that you should add a "my employer hasn't even mentioned this yet" option to the poll. And in my case, it's my money (deducted from my paycheck), so I sure hope they'll roll over any unused money.

Posted by: robwilli | December 17, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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