Janet Garrison has been biking to work for almost 20 years.
A coordinator at the UC Davis Craft Center, she hauls along art supplies in a big basket on the front of her bike.
“Anybody’s lucky where you can ride your bike to work,” she says.
Now, people like Garrison will be rewarded for biking to work by the federal government, something she sees as icing on the cake.
The Bicycle Commuter Act was signed by former President George W. Bush in October 2008 and became effective this year. The act allows employers to give bicycle commuters a monthly pre-tax benefit of up to $20. The benefit is intended to encourage people to bike to work and is designed to alleviate some of the costs of bicycle upkeep and storage.
The League of American Bicyclists has been especially supportive of the Bicycle Commuter Act.
“We’ve been ecstatic since it passed,” said League spokesperson Meghan Cahill. “It’s one step closer to where we want to be – to be treated as any other commuter. It’s another way to get people on bikes.“
Although the act has been floating around Congress for the past seven years, it was finally passed as part of last fall’s federal emergency bailout bill. The act is in junction with the subsidies already provided by the federal government for carpooling and using public transportation to get to work. Employees must pick which benefit they want to use and may not use them concordantly.
The act does have its share of kinks.
“There’s a lot of small fine print and some things that haven’t been worked out,” said Cahill.
For example, employees must work full-time and have worked at their current job for more than fifteen months.
Although employers can provide employees with the bicycle commuter benefit by means of a $20 cash reimbursement, the most common way to receive the benefit is by applying online for a voucher. As of March 10, Commuter Check Services, a company that provides transportation vouchers across the nation, began providing the bicycle commuter vouchers. The vouchers can be redeemed at most bicycle shops for purchases made.
One of the biggest concerns among employees who can bike to work and don’t is having to bike in work clothes. Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists Andy Clarke believes an attitude change may be in order.
“You don’t have to go fast,” he said in an interview on National Public Radio on March 23. “You don’t have to be Lance Armstrong every time you get on a bike to go to work.“
To Garrison, biking to work is a no-brainer.
“It’s so much in one,” she said.
Besides being a healthy and fun way to get to work, she said she loves being able to cut across the town. The fifteen-minute ride from her Davis home, she said, is probably quicker than trying to drive and find parking on campus anyways.
“I don’t think twice about going somewhere with a bike,” she said. “Everything seems so much more doable.“
Because Davis is so flat, bicycling has always been easy. A receptive city government doesn’t hurt, either. Because of the city’s efforts to incorporate bicycling and bicycle safety into every aspect of its planning and development, the League of American Bicyclists has deemed Davis a Platinum Level bicycling city.
“Anybody who’s lucky enough to live and work in Davis should ride their bike to work if they can,” Garrison said. “Twenty bucks would be a win-win.“
RONNY SMITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.