Muckraker: Grist on Politics

A bipartisan group of six House members introduced a bill on Wed. to help reduce the gas-price pressure on Americans by investing in transit alternatives and smarter city planning.

“The Transportation and Housing Options for Gas Price Relief Act of 2008” (H.R. 6495) was introduced by Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and is cosponsored by Chris Shays (R-Conn.), Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif), and Hilda Solis (D-Calif.). The bill includes measures that expand public transit and provide assistance to existing public transit systems to deal with rising fuel costs, and offers additional incentives to employers and employees who utilize alternative methods of commuting like carpooling, walking, biking, or taking transit.

“As more and more Americans seek ways to reduce the increasing cost of transportation, Congress can help by passing this legislation,” writes Blumenauer in an op-ed on the bill featured on Planetizen. “By investing in American families and communities instead of our gas tanks, we can reduce gas prices, reduce our long-term oil dependency, and create more livable, sustainable communities in the bargain.”

The bill would equalize the transportation fringe benefits currently offered so that those who commute by public transportation get as much of a break as those who drive. It would also allow employees who currently drive to cash-in their parking benefits and spend the money on alternatives to driving a personal vehicle. It would also extend transportation fringe benefits to people who are self-employed, and create tax credits for carpooling expenses and employers and employees who telecommute.

It includes incentives for “pay-as-you-drive” auto insurance policies, which offer lower insurance premiums to those who drive less. There’s also funding for local governments to make their cities more bike and pedestrian-friendly, and measures to increase the availability of “Location Efficient Mortgages,” which offer lower mortgage rates for those who buy a home accessible to public transit.

A group of 16 transit, smart growth, and environmental organizations sent Blumenauer a letter [PDF] today congratulating him on the new bill. The signatories included Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, the American Planning Association, Smart Growth America, and the American Public Transportation Association.

“[T]his bill will foster timely solutions to reduce our dependence on oil and our national vulnerability to the movements of the oil markets,” wrote the groups.