Blumenauer legislation would bulk up and clear up bike commuter benefit

National Bike Summit - Day three-10
Rep. Earl Blumenauer at
a reception this morning
on Capitol Hill.
(Photo © J. Maus)

When the Bike Commuter Benefit Act passed back in October, it was somewhat of a shallow victory for advocates who had pushed for its passage for seven long years. Not only did it pass as a ploy to build support for the controversial financial bailout bill, the “benefit” it provides is small ($20 per month compared to $230 for parking a car and $120 a month for taking transit), and the implementation has been the source of massive confusion to HR people across the country. Worse yet, the Bike Commuter Benefit Act included language that required bike riding employees to choose between the bike benefit or the transit benefit.

Now, Congressman Earl Blumenauer has introduced a resolution (H.R. 863) called the Multimodal Commuter Credit that he hopes will clean up the existing law.

The new legislation will allow employees to receive a combination of the bike and transit benefits up to the currently monetary cap of the transit benefit. The legislation also will allow employers to administer the benefit exactly the way existing fringe benefits are administered, thereby clearing up much of the confusion over implementation of the current bike commuter benefit.

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Blumenauer announced the legislation at this morning’s kickoff of the Capitol Hill lobbying day here at the National Bike Summit.

According to a one-pager about the new resolution, Blumenauer’s office says that the language to allow combining of transit and bike benefits is needed because many commuters “use multiple forms of transportation in their journeys,” and that, by allowing employees to choose only one commuter benefit to use, “the program does not currently recognize these realities.”

Here’s more about the proposed legislation from Blumenauer’s office (emphasis mine):

“According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, bicycles are second only to cars as a preferred form of transportation, and ahead of public transportation, however many bike commuters may not be able to ride every day because of inclement weather. Alternatively, many commuters need to bike a short distance before reaching a transit station. This legislation recognizes that employees should be able to structure their commute benefit to match the practices they use to get to work.”

If passed, the Multimodal Commuter Credit (which its authors describe as being “smarter”, and “more flexible”) would amend the IRS code to receive transportation “fringe benefits” for the same month both in the form of transit passes and reimbursement of bike commuting expenses.

Essentially, this resolution is a clean-up measure meant to correct errors made when the Bike Commuter Act was first passed. I asked Blumenauer’s bike policy staffer Tyler Frisbee why it couldn’t have been done right the first time.

Frisbee said the reason is that it was passed as part of the financial bailout package, “instead of a more orderly process.”

It seems like what Blumenauer is doing here is fixing errors made by the committee that rushed it into the financial bailout package without full knowledge of how it should be administered. In addition to cleaning up the existing law, perhaps this is Blumenauer wanting to put his name on a bill that he worked so hard to pass, only to have it finally get through on a larger bill that he actually voted against.

Perhaps this resolution should be known as the Blumenauer Amendment.

This story is part of our special 2009 National Bike Summit coverage (sponsored by Planet Bike). For more coverage, follow BikePortland on Twitter and browse the latest photos in our Bike Summit photo gallery.

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