Last week marked the second fare hike for Washington’s public transit system this summer. The new regular base fare for Metrorail is $2.15 during rush hour -- double what it cost 10 years ago to ride the train. Yet not everyone will feel the pinch in their pocketbooks.
That’s because most federal employees get to ride for free. American taxpayers subsidize their commute with up to $230 per month in benefits. So while other D.C. area commuters shell out more money for Metro, government workers simply draw a larger subsidy.
Take federal worker Wayne Smith of Chevy Chase, Md., for example. The Smithsonian Institution employee told The Washington Post the fare hike was of "no concern to me.”
President Obama’s economic stimulus increased the monthly subsidy for federal employees from $120 per month to $230 per month in March 2009. It’s scheduled to drop back to $120 on Dec. 31, but there’s a push by government workers to maintain the current level.
How does such a subsidy stimulate the economy? Beats me.
One thing is certain: Federal employees don’t need any new perks or benefits. According to a study by Heritage Foundation analyst James Sherk, these government workers are already earning 22 percent more per hour on average than private-sector workers. Add their lavish benefits and they’re paid approximately 30 percent to 40 percent more in total compensation.
At a time of such fiscal strain on government, it’s downright foolish to subsidize their commute, especially since the higher fares will indirectly increase the federal government’s funding of Metro. Private-sector employees are expected to pay out of pocket for public transit or parking. There’s no reason federal employees, who earn more money anyway, should be treated differently.
Metro’s decision to raise fares is a perfect example of this inequality. The poorly managed transit system decided to hike rates to reduce a $189 million budget deficit. When it solicited public feedback about fare increases vs. service cuts, the consensus favored higher prices. Of course, the 170,000 federal employees who use Metro don’t really pay for it anyway.
Just as maddening is the lobbying effort under way to keep the subsidy at $230 per month. Unless Congress acts, it will automatically revert to $120 per month.
Supporters of the public transit subsidy argue that federal employees who drive make out better with tax-free parking benefits. In fact, Rob Healy, vice president of government relations for the American Public Transportation Association, said federal workers would stop using Metro and return to their cars if such a disparity existed.
Here’s a better idea: End both of the perks. American taxpayers don’t need to be subsidizing the commutes of well-paid federal workers.
Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.