Some of us have always known it pays to commute by bike– but it could soon pay in cool hard cash– with some luck, a greener Congress, and encouragement from the public (yes, that would be YOU!).
Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer (both Democrats from Oregon) have introduced federal legislation to give tax breaks to bicycle commuters. Tax incentives for environmental conservation began in the 1970’s with solar power, and continue with breaks for corn-growers, carpoolers and those using the bus. Almost all forms of transportation have enjoyed subsidies at some level. Finally, it may come home to those who regularly pedal to work.
The “bicycle commuter act” is overdue. Forms of it have been introduced in the House since 2001 and in the Senate since 2003, but died in committee each time. But this year, according to Walter Finch, Advocacy Director of the League of American Bicyclists, the Bicycle Commuter Act (S. 858 and HR. 1498) may have a better chance of surviving to adoption than ever before. Sixteen senators have co-sponsored their version of the bill, although neither Arizona Senators McCain nor Kyl have registered their support (note to self… write senators, see links below). In the House, Representative Rick Renzi is a co-sponsor for the house bill, along with 66 other representatives. For the first time, the house bill has been folded into a massive energy conservation bill, the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007 [HR. 2776], a very encouraging step, which was passed in the House August 4th. This bill includes tax incentives for various conservation strategies, including hybrid cars, research and development of alternative fuels and renewable energy, oceanic hydropower, energy efficient buildings and appliances, and others. Renzi has not yet offered sponsorship of this bill. The bill cannot become law until the Senate also passes it.
Currently, HR. 2776 provides that cyclists may be reimbursed from their employer for costs of purchase, repair, improvements and storage of bicycles up to $20 for every month that they regularly use a bicycle to commute to work. Considering how much communities and employers spend each year just to provide “free” parking ($300-$2000 per stall per year excluding environmental costs), this is a bargain with a green footprint.
With the growing acceptance of global climate change, it seems inevitable such legislation becomes reality. There are a half dozen bills proposed in Congress promoting or protecting bicycling on some level; and in Bush’s State of the Union message in January 2007, he announced his “Twenty in Ten” plan (subtitled: Strengthening Energy Security And Addressing Climate Change) to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years. Although bicycles are not directly mentioned in his plan, it would seem an inevitable conclusion. Perhaps not. On August 15th, Bush’s Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters called funding of bicycle paths and trails “a waste” of the gas tax monies set aside for transportation needs, including reducing gridlock and congestion (listen to a copy of the interview here and her response). The dominant, and best funded, parts of these bills and plans emphasize finding new energy to maintain our U.S. lifestyle. HR. 2776 sets aside $1 million per year for the bike tax refund, a mere 0.06% of its total expenditures.
Take Action NOW
Sometimes our elected officials need a push to do the right thing. If you support the bicycle commuter act, let your representatives know. This is very easy using the League of American Bicyclists website or the link below. Go there now to find out who your representative is, and if he or she supports these bills. You can easily write an email to your reps to encourage their support.
Links for more information:
League of American Bicyclists: http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bikeadvocacy/
Bush’s “Twenty In Ten” plan: http://www.state.gov/g/oes/rls/or/84848.htm
Search congressional legislation here: http://thomas.loc.gov/