A new year means a new, and potentially major, tax break for Long Island Rail Road commuters.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) on Monday spread the word about the recently bolstered federal commuter tax benefit, which allows transit users to pay for the cost of their commutes with up to $255 of pretax dollars a month — nearly twice the $130 limit in place last year.
“The good news is that, permanently, the mass transit tax deduction is available to everyone in this country. And it has a real effect on Long Island because the cost of a Long Island Rail Road monthly ticket is so large,” said Schumer, who handed out fliers with information about the tax break to commuters at the LIRR’s Mineola station Monday morning.
Unfortunately, Schumer noted, “most Long Islanders don’t know about it.”
Although about 700,000 commuters in the New York Metropolitan area used the benefit in 2013, many more either aren’t aware of it, don’t bother to sign up, or don’t work for employers that offer it through programs such as Wageworks.
“Ideally, you’d hear about it from your HR director, who would be saying, ‘Hey this is a benefit,’ ” said David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter, a Manhattan transportation think tank. “It costs them nothing. It actually saves them money, and it’s another fringe benefit that helps attract employees.”
For years, Schumer and transit advocates pushed Washington to create permanent parity between the transit tax break and a similar benefit offered to motorists to write off parking costs. Until last year, the drivers’ tax benefit was nearly double that for public transportation users. With the new law’s passage last month, the two will remain equal going forward and be adjusted each year for inflation.
“Mass transit riders now have equality under the law with drivers,” said LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein, who joined Schumer in Mineola. “This is a very, very big deal. This has been an issue that we’ve been fighting for years.”
Among those learning about the enhanced tax break from Schumer on Monday was Keith Cole, 50, a union electrician from Mineola who commutes to Manhattan. The benefit will allow him to pay for his entire $232 monthly LIRR pass with pretax dollars — saving him several hundred dollars a year.
“We all need a tax break. This will be helpful,” Cole said. “It will lighten up the load.”