Federal Bailout for Bicycles: Part 2


In a previous post, we went over the details of the federal bailout for bicycles. If you missed it, no worries, here is a quick summation of how it works: essentially, it allows "employers to offer a fringe benefit of $20 per month for employees for the purchase of a bicycle and any bicycle improvements, repairs, or storage costs."

That's right, it doesn't go straight to the person doing the riding, but the business they are riding to for work. But how often must a person ride to get the benefit? Good question.

The bill isn't exactly clear. While some health companies offer rates that reduce your monthly payments if you head to a gym 12 times a month, the bicycle bill has no set number of days a rider must ride. They just have to fulfill the requirements of a "Qualified Bicycle Commuting Month," a vague term created by haters of English: lawyers.

Here is the official text:

The term `qualified bicycle commuting month' means, with respect to any employee, any month during which such employee--(I)    regularly uses the bicycle for a substantial portion of the travel between the employee's residence and place of employment, and(II)    does not receive any [other transportation fringe] benefit . . . .

So riders can interpret "regularly uses" as they see fit.

But the final part regarding "other transportation fringe benefits" didn't make sense to us. So we asked for clarification from David Peterson, a bike ambassador for the city of Minneapolis.

(And get this: according to Peterson, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) originally submitted the act for $80 per month to make it more comparable to the benefit for transit. So the $60 cut hurt pretty bad.)

Peterson goes on in an email sent to CP:

To date, not many employers have taken advantage of it, mostly because the cost-benefit isn't very good from an administrative standpoint...

...The problem in this instance is that an employee would be able to take the bike benefit or the transit benefit, but not both.  And since an employer receives a much larger amount in reduced payroll taxes from the transit benefit, they'd rather not lose that by having someone switch from taking the transit fringe to the biking fringe.

He adds that the bike benefit will grow in popularity once employees are able to benefit from multiple options. As it stands, the federal bailout for bikes does carve out money for cycling, but doesn't give much of an incentive for employees to ride more. Yeah, $20 a month in benefits is fine and all, but c'mon, it's only a fourth of the proposed offer.

But don't fret, kind-hearted cyclists, Peterson ends his thoughts on a positive note:

Congress will be authorizing a new transportation bill this year, and it's likely that the bike commuter benefit will be retooled then.  So think of the benefit as a placeholder for better policy to come.  My understanding is that this is how the transit benefit was established, as well.

Think of current bill as a two-wheeler with training wheels. And the only folks with the ability to take them off: our congressmen.

Badger away.