Thanks to the Bike Sharing Blog, I recently heard that Congress is considering the Commuter Parity Act of 2013 (HR2288). The bill would include bike-sharing in the commuter tax benefit available to bicyclists through their employers. This is a timely development for Atlanta, as Atlanta and Decatur have just recently released an RFP for a bike-share program based on the Atlanta Bike Coalition’s Feasibility Study. Writing at Bike Sharing Blog, Paul DeMaio asked readers to write their congressman, so I did, and I’ll go ahead and encourage you to do the same. Not only did I ask for my congressman’s support for the proposed changes, but I also pointed out some flaws I see in the present law that might could be amended during revisions of the present bill. I share below my letter to Rep. John Lewis (GA-5), my representative for where I live in West Midtown Atlanta.
Dear. Rep. Lewis,
My name is Will Jungman. I grew up in Atlanta, own a home at…in West Midtown, serve as president of the Berkeley Park Neighborhood Association and a deacon of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian, and work in Pricing at…, a block from your Atlanta office. I studied economics at the University of Virginia… Also I regularly commute via bike 4 miles to downtown.
HR 2288 sponsored by Rep. Grimm (NY 11) would raise the tax-deductible bicycling commuter benefit from $20 to $35 and also include bike-sharing in the benefit. Given the City of Atlanta’s recent plans to invest in bike infrastructure and issuance of an RFP for bike-sharing, I strongly support these measures for our district and ask that you will lend your support as well. I hope that further incentives for cycling will persuade more Atlantans to try commuting via bicycle, which inevitably results in making other trips via bicycle, too. Compared to auto and even mass transit, bicycling is a proven winner at providing a transportation option that generates high rates of return on fiscal investment, improves public health,, reduces traffic and infrastructure costs, and benefits our local air quality. Not to mention, I happen to think bicycling is just good for citizenship; bicyclists and pedestrians are naturally just more in tune with the rhythms of their community because they aren’t encased in their private space inside a car (I probably wouldn’t have noticed that the women’s shelter I ride by on Howell Mill Rd. really needed a crosswalk if I was on I-75/85 in my car).
Supporting expansion of a tax subsidy is actually a counter-intuitive position for me, a pricing professional and fiscal conservative schooled in economics. I’d really like to see fewer transportation subsidies and more user fees (e.g. tolls, gas taxes, etc.), with subsidy cuts and fees aimed first at our most heavily subsidized mode, the auto. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely to go anywhere politically any time soon. Given that, the next best course is to increase bicycle subsidies to at least bring bikes to a more level playing field with the more heavily subsidized modes. Maybe even some of your Republican colleagues in Congress would be amenable to this line of reasoning!
While I do support this bill, I wish to point out a few difficulties with the current tax treatment of bicycle commuting:
- As currently defined in Sec 132 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, a “qualified bicycle commuting month” in which a commuter may receive the benefit is only a month in which no other benefit (auto, parking, transit) is received. However, many bicycle commuters in Atlanta are not single-modal, but use multiple modes depending on factors such as distance (e.g., bike to Marta & ride), weather (e.g., bike in good weather, drive in poor weather), or scheduling. Given the much larger subsidies for auto and transit, it almost always makes sense for any multi-modal commuter to forgo any bike subsidy even if they use a bike fairly regularly. I ask that the members supporting this bill investigate a means by which multi-modal commuters could mix & match commuting benefits based on their modes taken.
- To receive any tax benefit, the commuter’s employer must create a bicycle program. Unfortunately, employers may just ignore bike commutes, now about 1% of the city’s total. Under present law, an employer may provide up to $2,640/year in non-taxable income to car commuting employees, but then may just ignore their bike commuting employees and decline to even provide them even a paltry $240/year in non-taxable income. In this way, an employer may essentially discriminate against one form of transportation over another. In Atlanta, this is more likely to result in a preference for the car, over transit and biking, which are more likely to benefit lower income employees. Employers who offer any one of one of these federally sponsored transportation benefits ought to be required to offer all.
Rep. Lewis, thank you for taking time to read my letter and consider these concerns. I do hope you support the bicycling measures in this bill. Since I work just a block away, I would be happy anytime to come in and discuss these matters in further detail with you or anyone on your staff. As your constituent, thank you for your work on behalf of Georgia’s 5th district.