Ray LaHood - uncle of one of my Wife's Sorority Sisters back at the the good old University of Illinois is the nominee for Secretary of Transportation.
Wow. Peoria. Not exactly what I considered the hub of the Transport world. There is a train from Chicago to St Louis, that I even tried to take once. It was sold out, strangely enough, apparently it's gotten quite popular. Despite the fact it basically goes through a bunch of cornfields, LaHood stated that people from Central Illinois don't want trains going through at those speeds. I dunno, as a kid visiting the metropolis of Gardner Illinois I would have probably been thrilled to see those trains come whizzing through. Of course, we'd need to figure out how to keep people from getting hit by them, but plenty of people manage to figure out how to get killed by Caltrains going at much lower speed. As for cutting through people's fields - my father-in-law is already being approached by Wind Farmers who are trying to put windmills on farmland down there, why not some better train tracks?
One plus for LaHood - he co-sponsored the Bicycle Commuter Act. Of course, so did 64 other representatives, so it's not like he really stuck his neck out on that one. It did get snuck into the bailout bill, but I find it very humdrum. $20/month subsidy for people who bike to work. Great! Except that if you already participate in a pre-tax transit benefit, you can't take advantage. People who bike often are people who take transit, even if they aren't multi-modal commuters like the Caltrain bike cohort. For example, I know people in SF who bike to work, don't own a car, and also have a MUNI pass. A MUNI pass is $45. In order to get the bike benefit, they'd have to forfeit their much larger transit benefit.
The transit benefit itself is a pretty good deal, but I find it a bit annoying as well. The current monthly limit for pre-tax contributions is $115. My monthly Caltrain pass is $198. So I certainly think the limit is too low, especially since I also use BART and MUNI to get around, I could probably blow through $220 or so a month.
Of course, if I were so damn holy I could just move closer to work where my pass would be cheaper, you might say. Allow me to retort - the only reason I moved to SF in the first place was because there was a very viable transit option. More to the point - there is also a pre-tax commuter benefit for PARKING. Parking? What the hell. Why are we subsidizing the parking of someone who drives into work?
Don't answer that question. Answer this one instead. Why is the pre-tax maximum for transit $115, and the pre-tax maximum for parking $220! Especially since most places (SF, NY, Chicago) where parking near places of employment costs $220 a month have excellent transit options. And what really rubs me the wrong way - if I COULD get the bike benefit AND the transit benefit, it would still be substantially lower than the subsidy given to people for parking!
I have taken the matter into my own hands a tiny bit. There is a bit of a 2nd hand market for commuter checks on Craig's List. Some of this is the result of people getting the checks and then changing jobs and not needing the commuter checks. More likely? Some companies just give you the checks if you apply for them, rather than making you contribute money pre-tax. Some people have figured out that they can take the benefit and re-sell it. I figure the employee and I can split some money that otherwise would go to the feds, and I can funnel it to Caltrain.
I managed to finagle $290 of checks for $250 from someone. Most of the checks (greater than $115) had the same expiration date, the way I figure it she and her co-workers were collecting the benefit monthly and it was her turn to sell them. She definitely wasn't ditching ones she couldn't use - she didn't even know where the Caltrain station in Palo Alto was at, and some denominations were greater than a SamTrans or VTA monthly. Some day maybe I'll be buying "Biker Checks" from some 370 pound wheelchair bound "cyclist" who had some extras!
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