08 October, 2008

Bicycle Commuter Act Passes House, Senate

The 700 billion dollar bailout bill that was enacted last week has it's share of detractors. In the opinion of many economists it had to be passed, but it wouldn't do much good. Events over the past couple of days seem to bear that out; of course it's still early. In the end though, this downturn, like all previous downturns, will pass.

In any case, to get the last dozen votes needed to pass the bill a lot of extensions were added, some good and some bad. One of the good ones was The Bicycle Commuter Act which will provide a $20 tax credit per month to employers of bike commuters. That's only $240 a year, but it's enough for tires and some bike of upgrades. Be sure to ask your employer to participate. Here's a link to a Wired post with more details.

I can't help but wonder if the money spent on this act might not have been better spent on bicycle infrastructure? Will getting $20 a month convince more people to commute by bike than, for instance, having a proper bike lane or good bike storage facilities at the subway stop? Hmmm....

If you want to read more about economics and the credit crisis I highly recommend (the only occasionally wonkish) Economist's View blog.


JB said...

Another excellent source for those of us confused by the crisis (i.e. all of us) are the pair of This American Life episodes on the subject. First, from last spring, The Giant Pool of Money explains the subprime mortgage crisis. Second, from just last weekend, Another Scary Hour about the Economy explains where we are now.

2whls3spds said...

Only problem I see is that the money is going to the employer not the employee. Most employers I know will grab the money and not share with the employees. It really should be much more. I am sure that a parking space in most areas costs more than $240 a year.


Nate said...

This act was drafted by congressman Earl Blumenaur (D) Oregon and others. It was not originally in the bail-out package but was added as a sweetener to get Blumenaur to change his vote to yes. He didn't ask for it to be there and he voted no the second time as well because he believed the package was a bad one and didn't do enough to help the middle (and those less fortunate) class people that are suffering.

$20/mo is hardly anything, but its at least a step in the right direction to have semi-equal footing with motorists, when it comes to taxe code at least.

phil varner said...

Nearly every employer who will implement this (and I believe few will) already has a transportation benefit. In my case, it's a reimbursed bus pass. The BCA credit cannot be applied on top of of other business transportation credits, so it's either/or. At $4 round trip by bus to work, the $20 benefit is worth 5 days of bus commuting. I take the bus about once a week in the summer, and more frequently as the weather turns. Even cycling just 75% of the time, it's better for me to stick with my old benefit.

What's really needed is for businesses to adopt a transportation-neutral policy. My company pays about $250/month for city parking spaces for any employee who needs/wants one, a $60-70 public transportation benefit, or $0 cycling or walking benefit. No provision is made for employees who want to mix modes. If the policy were changed to $250/month or a parking space, employees who did want to do something other than solo driving could do so. Carpoolers could keep the money, walkers could use it do subsidize their more expensive downtown apartments, cyclists could spend it on bike maintenance, bus riders would spend part on tickets and keep the rest, and mixed-moders would spread it around. And, it wouldn't require any government intervention or complex tax recording on the part of the business.

Anonymous said...

Getting the benefit into law is the hard part. Changing the amount is the easy part. So, they got it in at $20 a month, but it will probably soon be upped to the equivalent metro/parking benefits for federal employees.

This is a good thing!

Anonymous said...

I read that it is the employer who gets the tax break - not the employee riding the bike. Not sure how all this trickles down to the actual rider.

-- Boris

Anonymous said...

So, like the bailout, we the taxpayers give them the money, and then we get to earn it back? And then it's presented as a 'gift' to bicyclists?

Unknown said...

I commute regularly to my job.

I will not ask my employer to utilize this 'benefit'.
For one thing, administering this in our company will be overhead we an ill afford at this time.

I think this program is inappropriately attached to the 'bailout' legislation. If our politicians can't treat a crisis appropriately perhaps we as citizens can.

Were the crew painting the Titanic as it went down?


C said...

I agree with JimD - it's absurd to include this with the financial bailout. Funny thing is a lot of people who are all excited about this and have no problem with it being attached to the bailout would probably shriek if someone tried to attach freeway funding the bailout or military spending to the bailout. Much as people like to shriek about lobbyists and pork barrel spending the reality is everyone has their pet projects they want to see supported and cyclists are no different. We have our lobbyists (the LAB) and we have our pork barrel spending.

I remember working as a grant administrator at UC San Francisco when we received $50,000 to study breast cancer in Marin County. Good money for a good cause. Where did this money come from? The NIH? Nope. The CDC? Nope. It came from the US Army! Seriously. Never mind that breast cancer really isn't a national security issue. Never mind there isn't a single US Army installation anywhere in Marin County. Politicians stuck the money in the Army budget because they knew that was how it would get passed in a vote.

Reality is when you see the government spending X dollars on defense or Y dollars on transportation you shouldn't always assume the money is going where you think it is. Politicians can get very creative when it comes to finding ways to fund their pet projects.

C said...

Kudos to Earl Blumenaur for voting against his own project in the interest of the greater good.

K Matthias said...

I'm with Phil Varner on this one. Encouraging companies to make equal benefit to any form of transportation would really change things.

My own employer pays outright for a yearly transit pass subscription so I really can't complain at all. But I have worked for many others where nothing was provided for non-car expenses, whereas parking was heavily subsidized to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars a month.

As for the tax plan... I like the idea, but it makes no sense to give it to the employer and not the employee.