Many employers, unwittingly or otherwise, subsidize car commuting by offering their workers a free parking space. A D.C. Council proposal wants to make that (often subverted) subsidy overt, and require employers with free or low-cost parking to give employees who want to walk, bike or ride transit to work the chance to cash out.
“I can much more easily rationalize hopping in my car and driving downtown when I got a free parking spot,” Council Member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), a lead sponsor of the bill, said, according to the Washington Post. “But if my employer says, we are going to give you a parking spot or we can give you transit benefits or cash if you bike to work, then I have the flexibility to make the choice that is best for me.”
The policy feels like a smaller, city-specific counterpart to the federal commuter benefits program. Under that program, employers can offer their workers monthly sums or tax deductions for commuting — and while the system used to be weighted in favor of cars (employees could receive up to $250 a month for parking, but only $130 a month for transit in 2014) the benefit is now capped at $255 a month for both modes. Thanks to the federal bicycle commuter act, there’s also a two-wheeled benefit that employers can offer.
According to Allen, the bill would make other forms of commuting more competitive, the Post reports, and would also “address a fairness issue for the workers who sometimes turn down a valuable perk because they don’t drive or who are forced to take it because otherwise they can’t get the benefit any other way.”
In 2014, D.C. passed a law similar to ones in New York and San Francisco requiring employers with over 20 employees to offer commuter benefits. The new proposal would reportedly take D.C. “a step further by requiring companies who subsidize parking spaces to offer an equivalent benefit to non-drivers,” according to the paper.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.