Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Biking for Bucks

We are all aware of the health and environmental benefits of riding bicycles instead of driving SUVs and bitching about parking. What you might not have known is that, buried in the bailout for big banks, is the Bicycle Commuter Act with a new tax provision that says employers who provide bike parking, bathing facilities, tune-ups, or other support for bicycle commuting, can deduct up to $20 a month per participating employee from their own taxable income.

Here's an explanation of the idea from Portland's progressive Congressman Earl Blumenaur (D-OR3), who sponsored the legislative change, and here are the answers from the League of American Bicyclists to Frequently Asked Questions about how this is all going to work. The Bicycle Commuter Actalso allows for a "qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement for reasonable expenses incurred by the employee ... for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee's residence and place of employment."

An article in today's Benton County Daily Record attempted to discover whether Walmart and Tyson Foods would be participating in the new program of employee benefits but got no immediate response. It makes good business sense for them and all businesses, large and small, to take advantage of the tax benefits for doing the right thing. Sounds like a good idea for an informational campaign for Steve Clark, the new Chamber guy.

Unasked, and as yet unanswered, is whether major public employers will pursue the goals without the tax cut carrot. Will the University of Arkansas, the local school districts, or city and county governments provide incentives for employees to bike to work and make it easier for them when they do? Leading the citizen call for such action would be a good project for the Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks.

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