Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) was joined by Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) introducing HR 5647, a bill to treat certain ride-sharing services provided by transportation network companies as excludable transportation fringe benefits.
Specifically, the legislation would require Federal agencies in the National Capital region to allow employees to include rides on TNCs and other mobility on demand services to count as an eligible transportation fringe benefit. The legislation only allows the expanded eligibility during the period of time in which the Washington region’s transit system, WMATA, is undertaking its SafeTrack program. SafeTrack is a safety improvement project that the agency is undertaking in order to correct a number of serious safety issues identified by the National Transportation Safety Board. SafeTrack is scheduled to conclude in March 2017.
While the legislation has a significant amount of merit, there are several issues with the text of the legislation that are cause for concern. First and foremost, the legislation requires Federal employees to forgo their transit benefit if they utilize TNCs. TNCs are most productive as a first/last mile option and in regards to SafeTrack, additional first/last mile service is needed. SafeTrack closes or creates delay in specific pockets, not necessarily the whole system. Requiring employees to forgo transit could create a greater congestion problem on regional roads.
Secondly, the monthly cap of $255 is not high enough to accommodate commuters. The cost of shared-TNC trips for medium to long distance commuters greatly exceeds that of transit. Thus, those commuters would only be able to use the service a few days in a month and could revert to driving alone the other days and while the intent may not be address the needs of these commuters, these are the commuters who are most effected and who can create the most problems by driving.
Third, the legislation does not require employees to use the shared functions such as uberpool or lyftline, nor is there any requirement that the trips be tied to transit or other alternatives in anyway, in fact as mentioned earlier, the opposite is true. This could lead to more cars being on the road, increasing congestion, as a result.
Finally, Federal agencies are not in a place in which the will be able to effectively regulate and monitor the new service, thus leaving open the possibility for significant fraud and abuse. TNC providers such as Uber and Lyft certainly have the ability to monitor and prevent fraud, but it would likely take Federal agencies several months to create internal systems and protocols. It’s likely that by the time Federal agencies were set up, SafeTrack would be over.
There are a significant number of benefits to adding mobility on demand solutions to the transportation fringe benefit, but these issues need to be addressed in future pieces of legislation. ACT will work with the organizations who support this legislation as well as the lawmakers in future efforts.