Read below about a cool new bike commuter law. Money for riding
your bike. How cool!
Carol Sue Stayrook-Hobbs, an employee of Prairie Harvest and
member of the Newton board of education, has been commuting by bicycle since
before her downtown job surfaced more than two years ago.
“When I worked for the Newton Medical Center child-care facility, it was a four-mile ride,” Hobbs said. “The one thing you have to consider is time. Today I drove because I was going to be at the high school, district office, here and at church. I had too many places I had to be.” But this month she’s riding her bike to many
destinations. Aside from the health benefits of exercise and the
cost-savings of not buying gas for a car, there is a new incentive for those who
want to commute by bicycle. Beginning Jan. 1, employees who regularly use
their bicycles to get to and from work are eligible for a $20-a-month, tax-free
reimbursement from their employers for bicycle-related expenses. Employers don’t
have to offer the reimbursement. Participating employers will, in turn, be
able to deduct the expense from their federal taxes. According to the
National Center for Bicycling and Walking, few employers know about the
reimbursement allowance. Rich Hanley, director of aging for Harvey County,
has made the county aware of the program. Hanley rides his bike three miles
to work between three and four times a week.
“As soon as the weather gets better, I will ride a lot,” Hanley said. “When it gets below freezing, I don’t ride as much. But we did have a woman in here the other day who is over 70 and rides her bike all the time.”
He said there are expenses that cyclists incur — which is why the reimbursement would be a good thing for employers to consider. “Throughout the year, you need different kinds of tires to adapt with the weather,” Hanley said. “One of the biggest items is warmer clothes. They need to flexible and not bulky.”
Hobbs, who at one time co-owned a
bicycle shop in Newton, said cyclists should schedule regular maintenance — an
annual checkup of the chain and bearings.
They also should keep fresh
batteries for lights. “I commute at night sometimes,” Hobbs said. “You need
a front headlight and rear lights on your bike.”
But those expenses are not the only ones employers can choose to reimburse bicycle commuters. Employers
may reimburse employees for expenses, including equipment and bike purchases,
bicycle parking, repairs, shower facilities and storage. The Bicycle
Commuter Act was part of the larger set of Renewable Energy Tax Credit
Initiatives included in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, signed
into law by President Bush in early October. Section 211 of that act 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.”
The Bicycle Commuter Act is an extension of a transportation fringe benefit law that gives tax breaks to employers for setting up car pools, van pools, and other plans for
reducing traffic congestion. The total anticipated cost of the provision,
estimated by the Joint Committee on Taxation, is $1 million per year.
“There are a lot of inexpensive ways to encourage more bicycle commuting, and this
benefit could encourage efforts in that direction,” Sharon Roerty, NCBW’s
executive director, stated in a news release. “More people might give bicycle
commuting a try if they know their business supports it, even at this basic
level.” The benefit is an optional benefit — businesses are not required to
offer it in any way. “It’s still up to employers to implement the subsidy,
and up to bicycle-commuting employees to request it,” Roerty said.
The NCBW has posted a page with links to additional information concerning the bicycle commuter benefit at www.bikewalk.org/bca.php.