Boosts for bike commuting

Buried in the financial rescue bill passed by Congress last week is a provision to encourage bike commuting. The idea is to level the playing field for cyclists, who currently can’t get benefits like those available for participants in car or van pools or other programs designed to reduce traffic congestion.

Starting in January, employers can reimburse bike commuters up to $20/month for the “purchase of a bicycle, bicycle improvements, repair, and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment” and have such reimbursements get the same favorable tax treatment as other benefits. Twenty bucks a month isn’t a lot, but as a regular bike commuter, I think the concept is very cool!

Meanwhile, Caltrain, which runs commuter rail service into San Francisco from points south is trying to figure out how to provide more bike capacity on its trains. All trains have a specially fitted bike car with room for 32 bikes and passengers. During rush hour, some trains have two of these bike cars. But the number of bike commuters is growing (now 8% of Caltrain’s ridership), leading to overcrowding and frustration among cyclists when they can’t get a spot on the train. Waiting on the platform for the next train 30-60 minutes later is no fun, especially if you’re trying to get to work on time.

Caltrain is using all the cars it has, so this won’t be an easy problem to solve. In a plan approved last week, officials said they will increase bike-parking facilities at stations and experiment with removing some seats in train cars to make room for more bikes. A long term solution probably involves a big investment in more bike cars and more frequent train service.

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  1. Elena - October 8, 2008

    That’s still pretty cool. I just wish they’d grant them even more money per month to really get people interested!

  2. Anonymous - October 8, 2008

    One more headache for small business. One more “loophole” some politician in future years is going to screem about.

  3. Tim - October 8, 2008

    I was in Freiburg, Germany back in May and the number of cyclists there is astounding. It is not unusual to see as many bikes as this:
    http://tinyurl.com/4ftoq3
    actually, this is small, compared to some that I saw by the University.
    I used to commute to work in Manhattan, back when I lived on Staten Island, and making that ride – with the trip across the ferry – was a thrill everyday. I’m glad that the momentum people have given to this idea has come to the attention of CalTrans and similar agencies.

  4. Sarah - October 8, 2008

    What about for the freelancing folk like myself? Is this something we can claim on our tax returns? I know a lot of freelancers in NYC, like myself, ride their bikes to work, hopefully we can get in on this.

  5. Catherine - October 8, 2008

    I work at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where they already encourage biking with monthly bonuses (more than $20!). In addition, if you commit to riding your bike 2 days/week, the hospital will even supply you with a bike and equipment for as long as you commute that way. If you ask me…this is a model to be followed elsewhere. Saves money for the riders, for the hospital (less parking to build), and cuts way back on emissions.

  6. MtBiker - October 8, 2008

    I have commuted by bike for over 30 years in urban and rural setting. Twenty dollars a month would pretty much cover may direct costs, Tires, lights, chains, lube etc.

  7. StevnJessie1 - October 8, 2008

    For Las Vegas, I would settle simply for bike lanes on major roads going North and South. It is murder trying to get to work. Since I don’t use the highways, I should be exempt from paying taxes for highway construction.

  8. Petr Buben - October 8, 2008

    Good story. ===1= Maybe the “employers” in question might read “..with more than, say, 20 people” ?.. ===2= Maybe bicycles should be allowed regularly to ride on sidewalks? How is the regulations in the nation anyways? ===3= Do we need a -bicycle recuperation-, and a small battery and electromotor to help the paddle motion? ******CALTRAIN. WHAT the hek is the problem to buy 1-5 new trains?? WHAT the hel is the problem to tear seats of 5 cars out ?? Are you kidding me?!? Is it too much work?? What “big investment?!?” .. Or do you need a billion dollar bailout to put 3 new cars on the track?!!? Maybe you CEOs need better salary to figure this one out.

  9. LA commuter - October 9, 2008

    I have to commute every day into Los Angeles and am happy to say that our local bus system does a really great job of getting me there on time. I would love to be able to ride my bicycle to the bus and not have to rely upon my car ever again, but buses frequently only have space for two bikes on the front grill.
    In addition to adding more cars to the Metrolink/other train systems, I’d like to see more space available so that commuters can attach their bikes to the front of the bus.

  10. Z - October 10, 2008

    “Fringe Benefit to Bicycle Commuters” –
    As I understand it, it should work like this: an employer can claim a tax credit of up to $20 per bicycle commuting employee per month for ‘reasonable expenses’ reimbursed by the employer. It’s a pretty straight-forward tax structure, and should apply the same for massive corporations as small business as the self-employed (though this may require valid tax status as your own company).
    Effective date is 31 December 2008.
    A great start! Long overdue!

  11. Uncle B - February 21, 2009

    Now that the (GRD) has been forced ahead by the OPEC threat to cut oil supplies until oil reaches the price they want for their rediculously expensive lifestyle, and unemployment plagues our economy, we must face facts and demand answers. Is the end of oil in sight? Can we force OPEC and the Saudis to tell the truth about known reserves? Are we running to bicycles for real reasons, or just the greed of these “neighbors”? We need to reserve the limited nuclear resources for stratigic military reasons. We need to reserve some domestic oil for the same reasons. We need to be told the truth about world oil supplies, and if things are really this bad, we need a “Manhattan Project” style development for Solar and Wind resources as soon as possible! Don’t keep us in the dark Obama, we need to know the truth! Now! Happy cycling, Mine is a three wheeler because I am handy-capable, but a cycle none the less!