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Will fourth time be the charm for Bike Commuter Act?

Posted by on September 17th, 2008 at 4:22 pm

“I think it’s the best chance the Bike Commuter Act has had so far in the Senate.”
— Katie Drennan, a legislative assistant for Congressman Earl Blumenauer

For the fourth time this session, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that includes a tax benefit people who ride their bikes to work.

The Bike Commuter Act has taken many forms and has been a part of several different pieces of legislation over the years. Amazingly, even though the legislation seeks only to offer the same benefits to those who bike to work as those who drive or take transit, it has been ridiculed (remember Patrick McHenry?) and has lacked support for being too expensive (that’s what Oregon Senator Gordon Smith thought in May 2006) among other things.

At one point in April of 2007, Blumenauer’s office was concerned that allegations of fraud leveled at other components of the existing transportation tax benefit program (like people selling unused transit passes on Craigslist) would taint support of the bike commuter benefit.

It has been a roller-coaster battle to say the least.

Currently, the the bike commuter benefit is part of several provisions introduced by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that are included in the Energy Bill (or HR 6899; The Comprehensive Energy Security & Consumer Protection Act) that’s being debated in Congress this week.

As it stands now, Section 827 of the Energy Bill (titled the “Transportation Fringe Benefit to Bicycle Commuters”) states that employers would be able to provide $20 per month in pre-tax benefits as long as the employee used their bike “for a substantial portion of the travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment”. The money could be used for, “the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage”. The estimated cost is $10 million over 10 years.

The Bill passed through the House last night with a vote of 236-189 and is expected to be voted on by the Senate tomorrow or Friday (9/19).

One of Blumenauer’s legislative assistants, Katie Drennan, told me this morning that she’s cautiously optimistic. “I think it’s the best chance the Bike Commuter Act has had so far in the Senate,” but she added, “it is by no means a done deal.”

Conventional wisdom in on The Hill is that the Energy Bill is far from a sure thing in the Senate. And, even it if it does pass, the President has already threatened a veto.

“We’re crossing our fingers on passage,” says Drennan, “but its fate is really up in the air.”

— The League of American Bicyclists has sent out an Action Alert to encourage folks to contact their Senators about the bill.

— For previous coverage of the Bike Commuter Act, see the archives.

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  • peejay September 17, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    How did Earl vote on the latest Democratic lay-down to the drill-mad Republicans?

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  • Richard S September 17, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    OK. So there\’s resistance to passing a tax benefit for bike commuters. How about an alternative approach. How about killing the benefit that car commuters get. It will indirectly make bike commuting more attractive. Plus, it will do a little to cut down our budget deficit. That would have to be supported by conservatives who want smaller government, right?

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  • TS September 17, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    But taking away benefits makes the representatives unpopular among their constituents. And for better or worse, there are a lot more car-driving constituents than bike-driving ones.

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  • John Russell September 17, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    To the best of my knowledge, motorists can receive more than $100 to cover the costs of parking or something to that effect, so why do cyclists only get $20? I know how the ratio of costs plays out, but it\’s still discriminatory. While abolishing the tax benefits altogether would decrease the benefit of commuting by personal automobile, I would imagine that the effect on transit use would be much harsher.

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  • Jeff September 17, 2008 at 8:22 pm


    It turns out that Republicans don\’t really believe in small govt. and fiscal responsibility any more (if ever). They carry it around like a flag but, in reality, Bush and the Repubs in Congress went on the largest govt. building spree in our nation\’s history. One major part is Homeland Security. You don\’t have to look far for the rest.

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  • Icarus Falling September 17, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    I can\’t believe the funding that is being spent to try to put this through again.

    What the hell happened to the idea that everyone who commutes to work on a bike should be entitled to such benefits, regardless of who you may be lucky enough to work for?

    That is something our taxpayer dollars would be worth spending year after year to get passed.

    This bill as it stands only helps the lucky few, when taken into perspective.

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  • Herve September 18, 2008 at 7:36 am

    LAB, BTA, and similar organizations should be wrapping this in the flag and daring pols to vote against it; \”So, don\’t want more bikes on the road? Why do you hate America so much? OPEC doesn\’t have enough money yet?\”

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  • Pete September 18, 2008 at 11:42 am

    As a bike commuter I\’d love to get this benefit, but methinks a better use of this funding would be to encourage and finance workplace improvements to accomodate bike commuters. We clearly have a government that would rather migrate cash into businesses than individuals; I found it sadly ironic the Oregonian cover featuring a story on starving people denied state assistance next to a story on the $85B taxpayer-funded AIG bailout.

    The money I save in gas more than covers my bicycle maintenance (and shopping addiction 😉 yet I\’d love to see adaptation in the mainstream workplace come from executive management and trickle down. I\’d love to see businesses reimbursed for showers and bike parking based on number or percentage of ridership in their ranks. Maybe slush funds to make tubes, pumps, and helmets available, etc.

    Some of you mention killing advantages that car commuters get; I agree. I feel it will take serious change (and guts) for politicians to do what we really need, and that\’s 1) raise the Federal gas tax, and 2) fund highway repair and improvements based on vehicle burden instead of deficit spending (from my income and property taxes). I\’m tired of hearing people say that fuel taxes fund these things, because I wish that was really the case.

    (BTW, for readers thinking I want gas taxes raised because I don\’t own a car or use a bike exclusively – that\’s not the case. My workplace is nearly 100 miles from my home, so I drive a considerable amount twice weekly and ride whenever I can locally. I\’m contemplating a career move to another location and bike accomodation is of primary concern in my geographical and employer selection).

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  • IM September 18, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    I agree that this is a dumb idea. Waste a bunch of taxpayer money so that cyclists can get back 20 bucks a month? We should just do away with the benefits to car drivers if we want to level the playing field.

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  • Opus the Poet September 19, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    I agree that there should be some way to remove the benefit for car drivers if the benefit for cyclists doesn\’t pass. Also there should be some way to spin not supporting this as anti-American. Say a big ad in the NYT as \”These Congresscritters support terrorists-\” and name all the ones that voted against bike commuting benefits. Out-Republican the Republicans, depict those who are against you as against the USA, and for foreign bad guys.

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  • […] The Bike Commuter Act would provide a small financial incentive to bike to work. The act is part of HR 6899; The Comprehensive Energy Security & Consumer Protection Act that passed in the U.S. House of Representative yesterday. For more details, see BikePortland. […]

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