Federal workers who ride their bicycles on official business ought to be reimbursed in the same manner as employes who drive their cars, or fly their own airplanes for Uncle Sam, according to the normally tight-fisted General Accounting Office.
GAO, the congressional watchdog agency, has just finished a study of bureaucratic biking habits. It concludes that the governement ought to do more to get its own people to bike to work. In addition to providing more free parking spaces and showers for sweaty commuters, GSA says official-business bikers ought to get 4 cents per mile.
Despite federally financed bike trails, widespread biking interest here and federal carrot-and-stick programs to discourage the use of private cars, there are fewer than 4,200 bike parking spaces here for the area's 360,000 workers. Many employes commute to work by bike, motorcycle or moped. But only a few use their own vehicles on official business and only motorcyclists are reimbursed for it.
GAO feels that federal agencies must take positive steps to encourage employes to bike, or use gas-saving mopeds to get to work by setting up safe (free) parking areas, and lockers and showers for employes, and by working ith local jurisdictions to make biking safer, educating both motorists and the bikers, in urban areas.(In the Washington area some of that educating would include advising bikers that traffic signals and stop signs apply to them, too.)
On Capitol Hill the probiker effort is coming from the House Subcommittee on Government Activities and Transportation, chaired by Rep. John L. Burton (D-Calif.). But some people think that reimbursing bikers for official trips is less important than improving facilities for biker-commuters. The primary argument against paying employes for official biking is that, at 4 cents per mile for what would have to be relatively short trips, the paperwork would be more time-consuming and costly than the amount of the reimbursement.
One suspects that few federal bikers are panting to get paid, at 4 cents per mile, for riding from the Pentagon to the Justice Department, or from Commerce to Agriculture. What makes more sense, it seems, is for agencies to beef up their facilities to encourage people to ride to work, and for jurisdictions to do what they can to make biking safer. GSA rules say that two-wheel vehicles should be able to park free. The problem is that there are not enough spaces, and certainly not enough safe spaces.
If you have any constructive thoughts (or criticism) of the biking situation, contact the Burton subcommittee, Room B-350-A-B, Rayburn Building, City 20515.