“As gas prices go up, people get cranky,” Representative Earl Blumenauer said first thing to the audience gathered to see his announcement of the Commuter Relief Act. He said he wanted to help Americans break free from “the tyranny of the pump” and called for “commuter equity” under the tax code.
Every day the League gets calls from organizations and individuals asking us about the Bicycle Commuter Benefit, which has been helping Americans cover the costs of biking to work since it was enacted in January 2009. Today, Congressman Earl Blumenauer announced legislation that, among other things, would strengthen the bike commuter benefit and allow greater flexibility in the use of commuter fringe benefits.
Under the current rules of the Bicycle Commuter Benefit, bike commuters can only receive up to $20 a month for biking-related expenses — less than Congressman Blumenauer and the League had wanted — and the benefit cannot be combined with in a single month with other transportation fringe benefits.
For bike commuters, the Commuter Relief Act would:
- Increase the amount of the bike commuter benefit from $20 to $40 a month.
- Allow bike commuters to combine the bike commuter benefit with other fringe benefits — up to $200. For example, You could use the $40 bike benefit and collect up to $160 of your public transit benefit.
In addition, the Commuter Relief Act would:
- Cap all transportation fringe benefits at $200 a month (the parking benefit is currently $230, the transit cap will drop to $130 at the end of 2011).
- Allow self-employed people to receive transit fringe benefits for work-related commuting.
- Require employers offering a parking transportation fringe benefit to also offer employees the option to take cash instead. This would create an incentive for more people to leave the car at home and take cheaper options, like transit, biking, and walking.
- Create a 10 percent tax credit for vanpool expenditures
By capping the parking benefit at $200, the legislation would expand commuter benefits to non-drivers while not costing the government any additional money. This makes it what’s known as “revenue neutral,” meaning that it will not contribute to the deficit, an important quality in today’s budget atmosphere.
Representatives Jim Moran and Mazie Hirono, co-sponsors of the bill, joined the League of American Bicyclists, the American Public Transit Association, the Association for Commuter Transportation, and others in supporting the bill.
By providing a large parking benefit than transit and bike commuter benefits, the government is essentially subsidizing congestion. And parking doesn’t come cheap. ”I invite you to think about how much the government is paying for this parking,” Congressman Blumenauer said, pointing to a large parking lot on Capitol Hill, “Think of the uses of this expensive real estate.”
This legislation is an inexpensive attempt to right the balance and provide an additional incentive for people to choose active transportation to work.
Read more at Streetsblog DC.
League Policy Director
Flusche joined the League in April 2009 and has a B.A. in history from Syracuse University and a Masters of Public Administration with a concentration in public policy analysis from New York University.