Commuting by bike brings tax benefit

Brendan Lynch, who works at University Relations at Kansas University, prepares to head down 13th Street from Louisiana St. as he leaves work earlier this year for a bicycle ride home. Lynch has been commuting to work by bike for 10 years. The federal government is making it possible for bicyclists who commute to work to get extra money for their efforts.

The federal government wants to give you an extra $20 a month.

There’s a catch, of course. You have to commute to work on a bicycle and you have to persuades your employer to pay it. But the money would be tax-free to you and tax-deductible for your employer. It’s employer optional.

Some avid bicycle riders in Lawrence said they had heard about the law, which went into effect Jan. 1, but were vague on details.

“I think any encouragement to get people to ride a bicycle to work would be great,” said Lance Rake, professor of design at Kansas University.

Rake not only rides his bike to KU but also rides it to other businesses he sometime does work for, including a design business in Bonner Springs.

Called the Bicycle Commuter Act, it was part of the larger set of renewable energy tax credit initiatives included in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. President Bush signed it into law in October.

The bicycle commuter act allows for a “qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement” for “reasonable expenses incurred by the employee” for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair and storage. But the bike has to be used “regularly” for travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment.

The bicycle benefit is similar to already existing subsidies that include a $115-a-month mass transit benefit. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the new program will cost the federal government $1 million a year.

“There are a lot of inexpensive ways to encourage more bicycle commuting, and this benefit could encourage efforts in that direction,” said Sharon Roerty, executive director of the National Center for Bicycling & Walking.

Bicycle enthusiast Colin Howat, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at KU, said he hopes KU and other employers get involved with the program.

“I would hope we wouldn’t need a tax break to encourage this, but if this lowers the inertia, improves our general health, decreases congestion and lowers road damage, I’m all for it and would hope that employers, including KU, would take advantage of it,” he said.

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug doesn’t foresee the county government getting involved with the program. It would be a decision for county commissioners. Weinaug, who rides his bicycle daily to work, also makes recommendations to commissioners on new issues.

“Since I’m the only regular bike commuter of the county, for us to adopt that benefit probably wouldn’t be a good idea,” he said.

— Dollars and sense reporter Mike Belt can be reached at 832-7165. Visit his Common Cents blog at