Andrew Jackson: Come to papa
Twice in the past couple of weeks I’ve had co-workers call my attention to the bicycle commuter benefit that started Jan. 1.There also was a short story in the paper about it, then a boat-load of responses online to the man-on-the-street question asking if the $20 monthly stipend would be enough to encourage more folks to start riding their bikes to work.I knew it was a part of the big economic bailout bill that passed last fall, so as well-intentioned as my co-workers were to point it out to me, I already was spending my Andrew Jacksons. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to break any bike-commuter news to me.But … not so fast.The benefit isn’t automatic. Employees who regularly ride to work are eligible for the $20-a-month, tax-free reimbursement from their employers for related expenses, and though employers will be able to deduct those expenses from their federal taxes, the employers still need to be willing to take part in the program.So I asked our HR department head, who said the company had looked at the issue but that it was on the “back burner” as it hustled to complete year-end accounting. The issue is in the hands of the company’s comp and benefit specialist.It sounds like a straight-forward program that shouldn’t overly burden employers or employees, but I’m not terribly optimistic I’ll ever benefit from the, er, benefit.That’s not a knock on my employer, but — let’s face it — there aren’t a lot of us bike kooks on the World Company payroll. Though it’s one of the top-10 (if I recall correctly) largest employers in Douglas County, there are only a handful of folks I know of who regularly ride to work here. And by a handful, I really mean one or two.I’m not a big squeaky-wheel guy, so I don’t plan to make much noise to try to force the issue. Truth of the matter is, though I’m as big a fan of free money as the next guy, I’d ride to work without any government cheese.But it did get me thinking again about the cost of commuting.The benefit is a reimbursement for bike-related expenses, and there are some months — oh, say, 10 last year — where I didn’t spend 20 bucks a month on commuting. Try saying that when a car is your primary means of conveyance.Thanks to the marvels of modern technology (and my anal-retentive record-keeping), I learned I made 428 round trips from home to work last year. (I’m lucky I get to go home for dinner with the family, so I make two round trips daily).All this cipherin’ is starting to hurt my head, but 428, 10-mile round trips amounts to 4,280 bike-commute miles. I’d guess I spent no more than $250 on bike-commute stuff: two new tires, a chainring and chain, lube, batteries for my blinky light, a new rechargeable battery for my headlight.If Uncle Sam had ponied up 20 bucks a month last year, I would have netted $240 in bike bucks, making my grand bike-commute expenditure … drum roll please … 10 bucks. So, yeah, if the good, ol’ U.S. of A. (and the World Co.) want to throw a couple of dead presidents my way for the way I roll, great. If not, well, I don’t expect that’ll keep me out of the saddle.And if gas, as expected, soars over the $4-a-gallon mark again, that extra couple of bills might be enough to make some folks trade four wheels for two.