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Blumenauer pushes pedals on bikeshare and commuter tax benefit bills

Bike riders deserve a break.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Back in November there was buzz that Portland congressman Earl Blumenauer might be named to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation under President Joe Biden. That didn’t happen, but it doesn’t mean the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus will be on the sidelines of U.S. transportation policy.

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Today Blumenauer reintroduced two bills co-sponsored by House colleagues Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Vernon Buchanan (R-FL). One would fund bikeshare programs nationwide and the other would amend the tax code to increase benefits for people who commute by bike. If these bills sound familiar it’s because they’ve already been introduced and passed by the House of Representatives in July of last year; but didn’t make it any further under the Trump administration.

In a statement today, Rep. Blumenauer offered the pandemic bike boom as rationale for his latest attempt to get them signed into law.

Blumenauer in 2017.

“COVID-19 has only increased the popularity of bicycle commuting and bikeshare systems as people seek safe transportation options. Even when the pandemic ends, this demand for biking will remain. The federal government needs to catch up and finally provide the funding, flexibility, and incentives needed to strengthen bike culture and infrastructure.”

Blumenauer says it’s time for U.S. bikeshare systems (like Portland’s Biketown) — which are now available in at least 119 communities across the country (according to Blumenauer) — to have a dedicated source of funding. “Blumenauer’s Bikeshare Transit Act (PDF) would codify “bikeshare” as an official form of transit and make bikeshare systems eligible for federal funding, which could be used for constructing and maintaining bikeshare facilities,” his office said in a statement.

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The bill would specifically target the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), a major source of funds for non-driving projects that already includes carsharing. Blumenauer seeks to add, “shared micromobility (including bikesharing and shared scooter systems)” to the list of eligible project types.

The other bill Blumenauer hopes to pull to the front, the Bicycle Commuter Act, (PDF) is something he has worked on for over 15 years. It would ensure that bicycle riders can access pre-tax commuter benefits like those available to people who drive (and park) and take public transit to work. It’s a simple matter of fairness.

A similar (but less robust) bike commuter benefit became law in 2009, but it was suspended by Republicans as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“Blumenauer’s legislation would not only reverse this suspension but also expand and modernize the bicycle commuter tax benefit,” his office said in a statement. “Specifically, his bill would make it a pre-tax benefit, more than triple the benefit’s value, allow the benefit to be used in concert with transit and parking benefits, and add bikeshare and electric bikes as eligible for the benefit.”

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On the e-bike front, the bill would add “low speed electric bicycles” to the tax law and amend the definition of bicycles to include, “a two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.”

Anticipation of a major, progressive and bike-friendly transportation bill is building on Capitol Hill following the statements of DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg. At his confirmation hearing, Sec. Buttigieg assailed America’s “auto-centric view” and said federal funds should be spent on street designs that include bicycles.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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