Uncle Sam's Bike-to-Work Allowance

Is a $20 tax credit to promote biking to work in the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package pork?

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By Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers

Remember that big $700 billion bailout package that Congress passed? There were all sorts goodies tucked inside, including one for bicyclists. Yes, bicyclists. It's called the Bicycle Commuter Act and goes into effect January 1. While employers can already dole out tax-free funds to employees for parking and public transportation, this Act permits companies to provide $20 a month tax free to employees who bike to work, allowing the money to be used for bicycle purchases and bike upkeep. Spearheading the campaign for a bike commuter bill was Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. "We have legislation that is designed to promote cycling and to provide a little equity for the people who burn calories instead of fossil fuel," he says.

An avid cyclist and the founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, Blumenauer tells Whispers that of the 12 years he's been in Congress, he's commuted by bike all but just three days, including in bad weather. "I can get from Capitol Hill to the White House as fast or faster than my colleagues who drive," Blumenauer tells us. And he's not kidding about taking trips to the White House. For the first meeting he ever went to at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he showed up on his bike. "It was kind of funny, the White House police who man the gates didn't know what to do," says Blumenauer. "I kind of roll up and, finally, we just had the discussion, 'Well, what would you do if I drove a car?' 'Well, we would open the gate and let you in,' 'Well? Imagine two more wheels," Blumenauer says, mimicking the conversation. "I did kind of make fun of that a little bit."

Since being elected, he's headed the Congressional Bike Caucus, which boasts more than 160 "bikepartisans," and worked on bike-friendly legislation. "I found that virtually everyone in Congress has a bike story," says Blumenauer, who had pushed for the Bicycle Commuter Act for seven years. But strangely enough, when it came time to vote for his bill, there was a catch: Even with the addition of the Bicycle Commuting Act as a sweetener to the bailout package, Blumenauer didn't vote for the massive bill. "It felt a little odd that I was working for something for seven years and it got wedged in," he says. "But adding [billions] to the deficit just kind of freaked me out."