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Portland may require developers to offer residents, employees $600 for biking or transit

Posted by on November 11th, 2015 at 8:40 am

bta reception area
Downtown employer New Relic already offers in-office bike parking, but it doesn’t buy you a bike. Not yet.
(Photo: New Relic)

Got a new job in Portland? Have a new bike.

Deals like that could become common under a set of proposed rules being discussed by the City of Portland that might require developers or property managers to give each new resident or on-site worker $600 that could be spent only on non-car transportation: a nice new bike, six months of TriMet passes, four years of bike share memberships, or whatever.

The one-time payment would trigger at the time of move-in or hire. The goal is to make Portland’s streets cleaner and more efficient by reducing auto use.

Subsidizing certain transportation choices is nothing new in Portland real estate. That’s exactly what the city has been doing for decades by requiring almost every new building to have minimum amounts of on-site auto parking, whether or not the residents or employees will use it.

The main difference is that at $17,000 per stall, an auto parking space is much, much more expensive than a new bike.

Either way, of course, tenants of a building ultimately pay for its amenities (be they “free” bikes, “free” bus rides, “free” parking or anything else) in their rent.

Modeled after other cities

Many buildings automatically include parking with rent, but very few currently offer transit discounts.
(Photo: M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Peter Hurley, a senior policy planner for the city transportation bureau, said the proposal is modeled on similar requirements in Berkeley, California; Boulder, Colorado; Contra Costa County, California; Pasadena, California; Redmond, Washington; Rockville, Maryland; Santa Monica, California; and Arlington County, Virginia.

We’re creating more reasons for people not to have to have a car.”
— Portland Transportation Policy Planner Peter Hurley

Those programs range from a one-time $70 payment per occupant (in Arlington County) to $110 per month per occupant for the life of the building (Santa Monica).

Portland’s proposed rule falls on the lower side of that spectrum. But most U.S. cities (Seattle, San Francisco and Spokane were among those the city surveyed) don’t have programs that apply to new residential buildings or small employers.

“The idea is that we’re creating more reasons for people not to have to have a car, and not to use it if they do” have one, Hurley said Monday.

Hurley said that as the city tries to get drive-alone trips down from about 60 percent of its residents’ transportation to about 30 percent by 2030, two factors are calculated to have the highest payoff: better bike infrastructure and a “transportation demand management” program like this one.

He said Portland needs to be pursuing both.

Another possible rule: No car? No parking costs

bike parking at Central Eastside Lofts-13
The parking garage at the Central Eastside Lofts.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The concept of requiring buildings to pay for bikes or transit passes isn’t the only measure under discussion. The city is also considering requiring some new buildings to “unbundle” parking from rent.

This would let residents and employees who don’t drive to opt out of paying for parking they don’t need.

Or, to look at it from another perspective: it would require people who do drive to pay the full cost of parking on site.


Many central-city employers currently subsidize their employees’ parking garage bills, though not all do. And though most new apartment buildings in inner neighborhoods currently make on-site parking optional, the typical rate of $100 or $120 a month is probably less than the actual cost to the developer, which means that everyone in the building is helping pay for the parking spaces.

If new apartment buildings were required to charge residents the full unsubsidized cost of parking, that’d probably increase the number of people parking cars for free on nearby streets.

That’s where the city’s proposed parking permit system would kick in. If approved as proposed, it would let neighborhoods vote to ban residents of mixed-use zones from parking on nearby single-family blocks overnight.

Many details still up in the air

bike at move the house
Move the House Apartments on Division Street.
(Photo: M.Andersen)

A lot of things about the city’s proposal remain uncertain.

Most importantly, the city hasn’t decided which buildings, if any, these rules would apply to. Hurley said the city has legal authority to impose these requirements on every building, but is unlikely to do so for existing buildings.

The city hasn’t yet decided which buildings, if any, these rules would apply to.

Hurley called that “a more modest step to get the program up and running.”

That leaves new buildings.

Would the requirements only effect buildings in mixed-use zones? Only in downtown, or maybe in certain inner neighborhoods? Only on buildings where the developer has opted to build on-site auto parking? Only on buildings where the developer has opted to build no on-site auto parking?

Those are all options.

Then there’s the size of the incentive. Is a one-time payment of $600 at the time of hire or move-in too little? Too much?

How strict should the requirements be for what the money can be spent on? Who would oversee the program?

All those questions are to be determined. The city hosted daytime meetings Tuesday and next week to discuss the new rules. If you’d like to share your thoughts, email Hurley’s team: TSP@portlandoregon.gov.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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52 Comments
  • Brian E November 11, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Did they say where the money for these incentive payments would come from? Is it from the city (pdx taxpayers) or is it from the user (increased rent/lower pay)?

    I’m all for separating parking costs, but it seems a bit penalizing to burden a new employee or renter with the cost to fund the incentive fee. Especially for low income people.

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    • Hello, Kitty November 11, 2015 at 11:12 am

      If the building owner could raise the rent to cover the fee, they’d have done so already. They have a strong incentive to make rents as high as they can, regardless of what their underlying costs are.

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      • BeavertonRider November 11, 2015 at 1:54 pm

        And this would only encourage even higher rents.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 11, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      I can see that. But I assume you also think it’s a bit penalizing, especially on low income people, to burden a new employee or renter with the cost to fund free or subsidized auto parking? That’s what the city currently does by instituting parking minimums almost everywhere.

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      • GuyOnMTB November 15, 2015 at 2:09 pm

        Except in Hawthorne. 4 Apartment buildings going in on Division and Hawthorne between 39th and 50th. Not one of them being built with parking. On top of that, the city kicks around the idea of pay for parking meters on our streets(I own an 8lb maul). Then, then, there is the issue of Forest Park. What I know for certain is that Portland likes to say we are going to use this money for this, and then use or divide that money into places that were never mentioned to the ratepayer. And what about Riverview? If we are going to act conceded about this great bicycle town, then we should actually be a bicycle town, not a tour-cyclist town. You know, the ones actually doing the great job of angering motorist with their aggressive street riding.

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  • Scott Mizée November 11, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Wow. This is significant. Thanks for reporting on it, Michael.

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  • Ricky November 11, 2015 at 9:22 am

    The idea here is interesting but with the new bike option whats to prevent purchase and resale? Are U-locks a requirement with purchase? Will inspired people new to biking high theft cities and choosing the new bike be taught the importance of and how to use those U-locks and general rules of where and how long it’s safe to lock bikes outside? The other options seems pretty good but $600 lump sum for a new bike seems like it would add up quick and potentially be lots of money lost.

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  • Chris I November 11, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Seems overly complicated. Requiring unbundling city-wide would be good policy, and beyond that, we need to just charge for parking. Charge for street parking and private lots will be able to charge more and unbundle their spots. Right now, no one is going to build parking unless they have to, because the city is giving away thousands of free street spots all over.

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  • Scott Kocher November 11, 2015 at 9:55 am

    At Hassalo on Eighth (“an Eco Community”) bike storage costs $25 a month.

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  • Dave November 11, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Impressive that it’s even being discussed.

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    • BeavertonRider November 11, 2015 at 2:04 pm

      No, it’s actually quite dangerous. This is an extension of illegitimate local government interference in the housing and employment markets via existing regulations. It’s just another foot down the ever-moving regulatory slope.

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  • Granpa November 11, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Does the bike “give away” program allow the developer to not build car parking spaces? If so will residents with cars and their guests be forced to compete for on street parking? Existing neighborhood residents will certainly resent that. Would the flood of on-street parking be in concert with an on-street permit parking system whereby tenants pay for a parking permit? I think free stuff is great, when the article compares the $600 bike “give away” with $17000 parking space “give away” It looks to me like some slight-of-hand is going on to dupe the tenant and city planners (who hypothetically also represent existing neighborhood residents) and greatly profit the developer.

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    • Chris I November 11, 2015 at 11:52 am

      Existing residents have no right to street parking.

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      • Granpa November 11, 2015 at 12:59 pm

        Riiiight.

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        • Chris I November 11, 2015 at 2:24 pm

          Show me where it states “freedom for unlimited street parking” in the Oregon Constitution.

          Look, I’m a homeowner that parks a car on the street. I know where you are coming from. I also have neighbors that park multiple cars and even camper trailers on the street, year round. Charge a nominal fee for street parking city-wide, and these freeloaders will be gone. It’s exactly what happened downtown when they started charging handicapped permit holders to park. 20% of the parked cars downtown were gone after the first weekend.

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          • Granpa November 11, 2015 at 2:33 pm

            No where in my original comment did I say that existing residents should get free parking while apartment residents should pay. My thought is that the “free” bike is a ruse to allow developers to build multi-family dwellings without parking and flood the streets with tenant’s cars. With permits or no, that would be resented by existing residents.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 11, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      As noted in the last section, the city hasn’t yet decided which buildings would face these requirements.

      I could see the argument that if buildings are going to offer free or discounted parking, they also ought to offer a benefit to people who aren’t going to use said parking.

      I could also see the argument that if buildings aren’t going to offer any parking (currently allowed in a few situations) then they ought to put up some money to increase the chance that people living or working there won’t be using a car.

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  • J_R November 11, 2015 at 11:27 am

    It would be much smarter and simpler to institute a carbon tax, raise the gas tax, begin charging market rent for on-street (publicly owned) parking, and eliminate the parking requirements in the city’s building code.

    An entirely new bureaucracy would be required to implement this proposal and it would result in a whole series of unintended consequences that could include higher rents, shifting new construction to adjoining cities, etc.

    We’ve gotten to this situation because we’ve over-regulated (parking regulations) and now we’re proposing to “fix” the problem by regulating stuff designed to offset the consequences.

    Read Donald Shoup’s High Cost of Free Parking.

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    • Stephanie B November 11, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      I agree with this so much. Please can we get rid of the parking requirement and simplify the bureaucracy instead of making it worse.

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  • Ben November 11, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Why force landlords to do this? Wouldn’t a more progressive approach be for the city to offer the subsidy directly, from tax dollars?

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    • Hello, Kitty November 11, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Because this way it’s “free”.

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      • Chris I November 11, 2015 at 11:53 am

        and less controversial than doing what actually needs to be done: charging for parking in public space.

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        • Middle of the Road guy November 11, 2015 at 12:56 pm

          a parking spot in an apartment complex is not public space.

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          • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
            Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 11, 2015 at 2:22 pm

            Right, but as long as the public street outside is free to park on, people will park there instead of paying to park in the apartment.

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          • Chris I November 11, 2015 at 2:26 pm

            I know that. I’m talking about street spaces. You can’t expect private entities to build parking for potential tenants when the city is giving it away for free just outside their windows.

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  • Tom November 11, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Most people with a job and place to live can afford a bike
    Better off spending the money to reduce bike theft. That would be more encouraging than a free bike. Most people will already have their own bike, but many will not ride it to the store for fear of it getting stolan. Put the resources into fixing the real deterants. A bike purchase price is not a deterant. If it were then nobody would buy cars, which are 50 to 100 times more expensive.

    When can we have a city ordinance banning the storage of big piles of bike parts on public property. Spend the money getting rid of the open air chop shops and we will see a bump in utilitarian ridership.

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  • BeavertonRider November 11, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    No, no, no to this proposal. This is unnecessary government intrusion into the local private housing and employment markets. This is exactly the sort of government regulatory interference that penalizes the economy. And for what?

    In all, this is a feel-good measure that rests solely on the premise that the local government can impose it – sheer exercise of government power.

    It’s bad enough that the local government already imposes building restrictions that increase development costs and reduce the return on investment.

    Can anyone explain how this is a legitimate local government responsibility and a proper exercise of governmental authority?

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  • matt November 11, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    I’d be afraid that if employers were forced to do this then they may opt out of monthly incentive programs for commute trip reduction. I currently make about $90/month in our CTR program. That covers a new drivetrain or wheelset every year.

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  • Al Dimond November 11, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Sorry if this is minute, but I don’t like the phrasing of “multifamily zones” and “residential blocks”, implying that multi-family buildings aren’t a part of residential blocks. If you live somewhere, your block is certainly residential (even if it’s also, say, commercial)! The distinction is (maybe) between multi-family zones and single-family zones, where the people living in the single-family zones want to hold others to a standard they don’t meet: to store their vehicles on their own premises!

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    • Hello, Kitty November 11, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      If I rent or buy a newer house, it will come with free on-site vehicle parking. That is a higher standard than is required for new apartment buildings. I believe if you rent an apartment and own a car, you should be required to get a parking space. That would be holding everyone to the same standard.

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      • canuck November 11, 2015 at 3:04 pm

        Been to any new subdivisions lately? A car in the driveway and a car in the street and a garage full of everything but a car. The spot may be provided but they certainly aren’t used in the best ways.

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        • Hello, Kitty November 11, 2015 at 3:14 pm

          My last apartment came with a parking spot, which I used to store boxes (at least until a neighbor agreed to rent it from me — I had no car at the time).

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      • Al Dimond November 11, 2015 at 5:59 pm

        Is the distinction then between new and old buildings? If you live in a newer house you’d better have a garage and surely shouldn’t be allowed to park on the street? And if you live in an old apartment building that’s never had parking then obviously parking on the street is OK? What’s the line here between “newer” and “older”? How much of an addition can you put onto the house before it becomes “newer”?

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        • Hello, Kitty November 11, 2015 at 6:27 pm

          Many older houses in Portland either have no garage, or one that is too small for a car. Many older apartment buildings provide no parking.

          New house construction has had a requirement for a driveway for many years. New apartments were also required to provide parking until a few years ago.

          My comment was intended to counter the notion that apartments have stricter parking requirements than houses, when the opposite is true.

          If you build a new house today, you have to provide onsite parking, which is obviously free for the occupants to use. If you build a new apartment building today, you might have to provide some parking, depending on circumstance, and you can charge extra for it.

          I am in the (small) minority (on this site) that wants to see the same requirement for new apartments that exists for new houses.

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          • Al Dimond November 12, 2015 at 9:35 am

            So we agree that builders of houses and apartments should be held to the same standard — you think they should all build at least one free parking space per unit, I think none of them should be required to build free parking for anyone.

            But when I brought up standards I wasn’t talking about standards for builders, I was talking about standards for residents, which is what’s actually relevant because it’s what the proposed restrictions impose.

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            • Hello, Kitty November 12, 2015 at 10:23 am

              You are unhappy with proposed restrictions on those living in commercial zones parking in residential zones, right?

              If everyone who had a car had a place to park it on their property, the question of who should have access to street parking becomes less urgent. Some home-dwellers will still choose to park on the street, as might some apartment dwellers (choosing to use their parking spot for storage instead), and it would all be fine.

              Permitted on-street parking (and differentiating between residents in different zones) becomes necessary when builders are allowed to build new buildings with no onsite parking, externalizing their tenant’s parking needs onto the surrounding areas, upsetting people already living there. So there seems a pretty straight line between building requirements and parking restrictions. I want to fix the underlying problem, others want to treat the symptoms.

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              • soren November 12, 2015 at 2:28 pm

                people who live in an apartment building also already live there.

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                • Hello, Kitty November 12, 2015 at 2:37 pm

                  Exactly. When a new building opens, if the builder has externalized her parking demand, new residents who move to the area exert new pressure on resources used by people already there, whether they live in a house, an apartment, or elsewhere. Apartment dwellers already living in an area share the increased burden of the externalized cost.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 11, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      Good point, I’ll rephrase.

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    • Doug Klotz November 11, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      The current parking permit proposal, as I understand it, differentiates between buildings that are located in a “commercial” zone (soon to be called Mixed Use zone), and in a “residential” zone, whether a single-family or multifamily zone. The proposal is people living in a Residential zone would have first dibs on the permits. Later, maybe, those living in Commercial (Mixed Use) zones, would have the ability to purchase permits.

      This ignores the actual building type. There are mixed-use buildings in Commercial zones, but only non-conforming older ones in Residential zones. However, there are mixed-use as well as residential-only buildings in Commercial (Mixed Use) zones. See the building at the NE corner of Hawthorne and 30th. Much new multifamily is in Commercial zones, not “residential”.

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      • Al Dimond November 12, 2015 at 9:43 am

        Right, this is a case where the official terminology is badly misleading, which is why it’s being changed. Its new name reflects a “mix”, and one part of that mix is residences. Not a Residential Zone by official terminology, but certainly a residential zone, lower-case (also a commercial zone, lower-case).

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        • Hello, Kitty November 12, 2015 at 10:24 am

          The official terminology is misleading in a great many ways, unfortunately.

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  • ED November 11, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    I’m a land use planner and I’m confused by this proposal. Is there some link between developers providing incentives for non-car transportation, and reducing parking? Or is there some requirement for tenants and new employees to choose the free parking space or the non-car cash incentive? If new employees and tenants get a free parking space and some money to inspire them to take transit or buy a bike, I don’t see how that encourages people to reduce driving. Any why would my landlord give me money for a bike or a parking space? I’d rather they just lower the rent, and let me choose how to spend my remaining income.
    How about an actual link between parking and these incentives, such as requiring developers that don’t provide onsite parking to provide some combination of one-time contribution to the city for non motorized infrastructure and/or direct incentives to building tenants? That wouldn’t directly address any spillover of parking on city streets (if you believe that’s a problem), but a residential parking permit system might help not hat front.

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  • Joe Adamski November 11, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    My sense is that one will do what works best for you, any additional incentive is fine, but not a deciding factor. Example, suitable/affordable housing reasonably close to my work, in a neighborhood where all the stuff of daily living is close by, i will be there, incentive or not. Only when it does NOT work would any incentive be considered. We don’t want to build communities that you would need a bribe to live in, I hope?

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  • Eric Leifsdad November 11, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Give a man a bike, he’ll ride it for a day. Make a nice place to ride it and we’ll all bike for a lifetime.

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  • John Landolfe November 12, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Has anyone discussed how it would play with federal tax code? If employers pay more than $20 a month, the employee is taxed ~40%. If you try to give an employee $600 a year, you’re direct wiring $240 to the federal government. The employee gets $360.

    You’ve changed it from a transportation fringe benefit to a taxable bonus–the tax revenue of which is under no obligation to go toward TDM. And all that federal tax revenue is much more likely to go towards freeways and military spending than federal TDM programs.

    I’d love to be wrong on this point if there’s anything I’m missing here.

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    • Hello, Kitty November 12, 2015 at 10:59 am

      I think you are spot on with this critique, with the minor quibble that very few recipients would be in the 40% marginal bracket, if such a bracket even exists.

      If you are right about the $20/mo threshold, perhaps a better way to handle this would be to pay it in monthly increments, but that might reduce the impact on behavior it is supposed to have.

      That said, I’m still trying to figure out if the idea has any merit at all.

      What about $50 off rent if you don’t own a car?

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      • John Landolfe November 12, 2015 at 12:05 pm

        I’m no tax professional but here’s what I do know: The bonus tax isn’t tied to your income bracket so yes you can be at a lower bracket and taxed a higher rate on your bonus–on a paycheck this can be close to 40%. Monthly installments can reduce taxation but $20 a month still maxes out at $240 a year. This is what TDM-minded institutions already do. My concern is asking institutions to go above this threshold without addressing the current restrictions in code. The code also limits the incentive to either bike OR transit. But you can do transit AND parking incentives because… American tax code.

        Bike League has a good write up here: http://bikeleague.org/content/bicycle-commuter-benefit

        Workarounds like discount on rent (back on the housing side) might be a better option for everybody in some circumstance–it’s just important that the process allow that kind of flexibility.

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        • Gary B November 12, 2015 at 2:39 pm

          You are incorrect about the tax rate for bonuses (supplemental income). When a bonus is received, the WITHHOLDING may be at a higher rate (it will be either a flat 25% or a bracket artificially calculated as if you were receiving that much every paycheck). But you will eventually pay the exact same tax rate on your supplemental income as you do on all income–you will receive back the difference at Tax Return time.

          That said, yes, some portion of it seems that it will be taxable at the appropriate rate.

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          • John Landolfe November 13, 2015 at 9:17 am

            Thanks for the further clarification. Again, not a tax professional. 25% is still a concerning amount to lose of a program. And ~40% is still an important number because you’d lose it on the front end of an incentive to payroll only to gain it back nearly a year later in a lump refund that has no obvious connection to the original incentive.

            The psychological impact of the incentive (i.e. the point of the incentive) is still degraded hugely by the current tax code. The withholding distinction is a good point but not something an incentive program manager can explain in a compelling way to payees. Congratulations on your $600! Oh, it’s actually $360 for now. Later, you’ll get $210 rolled into your refund. It won’t be itemized as a “bike incentive” but trust me.

            And of course a million dollar program still loses $250,000. Again, let me know if I’m missing anything, if you agree, etc.

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          • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
            Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 13, 2015 at 5:34 pm

            This isn’t true if you’re a 1099 contractor! Like, ahem, some people I know.

            Of course, I bet 1099 contractors wouldn’t qualify as “hires” for the purposes of these rules so that bit is moot.

            In any case this is a great thread. Thanks, John.

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  • Mark November 14, 2015 at 8:50 am

    It’s quite the irony that the city for years..and even today requires parking on new builds. Now…the citybis coming back and threatening to charge them for the use of that required parking. For better or for worse…..that’s dishonest. In addition, the city makes millions from on street parking. See the conflict of interest? The city also makes millions from people who improperly park outside if downtown and Lloyd.

    We, as cyclists, should call this out for the dishonesty this is. Instead….we are treating it as ” the enemy if my enemy”.

    We as cyclists become the focus of the driver’s anger over such policies if these.

    The real solution is to end on street paid parking and convert all of that parking into protected bike lanes. Let the private market step in and deal with car storage just as they deal with human storage.

    But…the city has a vested interest in on street parking.

    Always…follow…the money…

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