- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Regional lawmakers and transportation officials yesterday announced an initiative to push more homeowners toward public transportation as part of a larger effort to solve the Washington area’s traffic-congestion problems.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Democrat, and Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, held a press conference in the District at which area lenders announced they would give credits on mortgages to homebuyers who move close to bus and rail stops and plan to use mass transit.

Additionally, Metro will issue 50 percent discounts for six months to participants in the loan program, and other local public transportation systems also will provide temporary discounts.

“Housing is not affordable for a lot of families. We’re spending too much time on congested roads. We know that more roads is not the solution. Maximizing our use of public transportation is,” Mr. Moran said.

But not all transportation experts agreed that the Smart Commute Initiative will increase ridership on rail and bus.

“I don’t think it helps mass transit one bit,” said Deborah DeYoung, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “It’s hard to see that it will change anyone’s behavior.”

“The primary benefit is to potential homebuyers, and homeownership is one of those parts of the American dream that we would certainly support,” she said.

Transportation officials hope offering credits of $10,000 toward their mortgage loan and down payments of as little as 3 percent of the purchase price will entice homebuyers to enter into the mass-transit deal.

There are no income requirements under the program, but loans are limited to homes a quarter-mile from bus stops and a half-mile from rail stations. These benefits are limited to mortgages of less than $322,000, and buyers must own two automobiles or fewer.

In some instances, homebuyers may be asked to sign an affidavit promising to use public transportation, according to an official of Fannie Mae, which sponsors the program.

Katherine K. Hanley, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the Smart Commute Initiative “expands affordable housing choices and reduces traffic congestion by linking housing and public transportation.”

The Washington area was ranked the third worst-congested area in the United States, behind Los Angeles and San Francisco in a 2000 study by the Texas Transportation Institute.

The Smart Commute Initiative has been introduced in nine cities across the country, and will be expanded to seven more in the next several months, a Fannie Mae spokeswoman said.

The initiative is one step in a long process of reducing traffic problems in the area, the program’s backers said.

“It’s a part of the equation,” said Richard A. White, Metro’s general manager.

Mr. White said Metro’s 50 percent discounts for six months on rail and bus rides will cost the cash-strapped organization about $100,000. Metro had to raise fares last month to help meet a $48 million budget deficit, and is expected to face another budget shortfall of at least $50 million in the coming year.

But Mr. White said Metro hopes to increase ridership with the promotion of the discount program.

“We’re just forgoing revenue short term to attract more long-term riders,” he said.

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