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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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