AUSTIN (KXAN) — Marcy Goodfleisch learned she was exempt from paying Austin’s transportation user fee “by accident.” People 65 or older don’t have to pay that fee, which shows up on city utility bills and ranges from about $10 to $15 a month. But there’s a catch: you have to apply for the exemption.

She first discovered the exemption while correcting her birthdate, which had been somehow retained incorrectly in the city’s online billing system. That was about five years ago, but, in the intervening years, Goodfleisch has remained concerned that seniors who need the exemption the most aren’t aware it’s available.

Being exempt from the fee could add up to enough money for a few gallons of gas a month. It won’t break Goodfleisch’s budget, she said, but the money could be a “big deal” for people under financial pressure.

“It won’t hit me hard, but it will hit them,” she said.

It is not clear how many residents over 65 currently pay the fee and don’t know they are eligible for an exemption. Regardless, Goodfleisch said she doesn’t feel enough is done to publicize it, and the fee should be terminated automatically when a person turns 65. People who don’t own or regularly use a private vehicle are also eligible for the exemption.

Transportation user fee exemption ‘not on the table, yet’

An automatic exemption for the transportation user fee is “not on the table, yet,” City Council Member Ann Kitchen said in October.

In 2016, Kitchen looked into a possible automatic exemption for people 65 or older. She said the city found there was “mixed thinking” from bill payers. Some favored an automatic exemption, while others felt they drive and use the street system enough so the exemption shouldn’t apply to them.

Rather than create an automatic exemption, city leaders have worked to improve publicizing the exemption option, Kitchen said.

Since that effort began about six years ago, the number of transportation user fee exemptions has tripled, said Kyle Carvell, a spokesperson for the Public Works Department.

There are now roughly 20,000 fee exemptions for people 65 or older and 4,000 more for people who don’t own or regularly use a private vehicle, according to Public Works.

Carvell said the fee has been kept in place without an automatic exemption “to allow residents who qualify for an exemption to decide if they wish to participate in the offered exemption.” The city includes information on the fee on utility bills, in a yearly mailer, on its website and posts on social media, Carvell said.

In total, the city expects to bring in over $100 million from the transportation user fee this fiscal year, with $57 million coming from residents. The money goes to the Public Works and Transportation departments for maintenance of roads, signs, signals, sidewalks and urban trails, according to the Public Works Department.

Kitchen said she appreciated Goodfleisch’s concern, and “it’s really important that we may make sure that people know about these programs.”

In the last budget cycle, Kitchen made a budget amendment for an additional staff position in the age-friendly office, which helps implement the city’s age-friendly action plan.

“There’s more work that needs to be done, particularly in terms of outreaching to older adults,” Kitchen said. “We can see if that’s sufficient, because the person that you talk to, you know, their concerns [are] important … We need to make sure that folks are aware of this option for them.”

Residential Transportation User Fee Rates as of Nov. 1, 2021:

  • $14.96 ‑ House/garage apartment           
  • $13.62 – Duplex
  • $11.60 – Triplex/fourplex             
  • $11.60 – Townhouse/condo       
  • $10.39 – Mobile home  
  • $11.74 – Five or more units         

Commercial customers pay $74.85 per developed acre multiplied by the type of usage, according to the city.