Stimulus Funds and a New Tax Benefit Help Smooth the Bike Ride to Work

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By Louis Jones
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Sunday, July 12, 2009

The federal government just made it easier for you to ride your bike to work.

No, the feds aren't flattening that monster hill for you. But you'll see more bicycling and pedestrian paths because of the stimulus package, which sets aside $800 million for transportation enhancements.

For instance, the District will spend $3 million to expand its SmartBike program, whereby cyclists pay a $40 annual fee for unlimited use of public bicycles, which are kept in kiosks throughout the city. Everett, Wash., a Seattle suburb, will spend $2 million to enhance bicycle and pedestrian travel.

What's more, Congress has added bicycle commuters to groups of workers who can receive a tax break to help cover the cost of getting to and from the office. Just as employers can provide tax-free reimbursement for the cost of parking or transit passes, they can also subsidize a bike commute. At $20 a month, the cap on tax-free money for cycling is far less than what's available for parking ($230 a month) and transit passes ($120 a month). But every bit helps.

To qualify, you must ride your bicycle for a substantial portion of your commute at least three days per week. If your company doesn't offer this benefit, raise the issue with human resources.

You'll save just by leaving the car at home. Roger Crawford, 53, rides his bike partway to his job in Arlington. He drives 50 miles and bikes the remaining 25 miles, five days a week. Crawford says each month he saves $260 in tolls, $60 in parking and $81 in gas.

More important, Crawford says, he's lost 30 pounds and kept his blood-sugar level under control. He was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes last summer.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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