Even with the boom in bike-share programs and construction of cycling infrastructure in U.S. cities in recent years, coaxing Americans onto a bicycle for their work commute is still an uphill battle. According to the League of American Bicyclists, in only a few cities do more than 5% of commuters choose to bike. And after years of growth in cycling commuting numbers until 2014, recently, those rates have started to slip.
The continued rise in cycling deaths–despite safe infrastructure developments–plays a role in this decline, as does the sheer availability of car transit due to companies like Uber and Lyft. But the fact that people who commute by car and public transit in the U.S. have access to a tax break of up to $265 per month (if their employers participate), and bike commuters get comparatively nothing, pretty neatly sums up bike commuting’s position in the country.
Now three congressional representatives have introduced a bill that would allow bike commuters to deduct 20% of the car/transit benefit, or around $53 monthly. The Bicycle Commuter Act of 2019 would also allow people to write off the cost of a bike-share membership, including those that primarily use electric bikes.
The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, whose district covers most of Portland (where 6.3% of people bike to work) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who represents parts of Boston and Cambridge (2.2% and 8.2% rates of bike commuting, respectively). The third co-sponsor, the Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, covers part of Sarasota, Florida, which consistently ranks high on the list of most dangerous places to be a pedestrian or cyclist. But Buchanan is determined to change that: Along with Blumenauer, he leads an informal Congressional “bike caucus” of representatives who advocate for bike-friendly policies.
Before this bill, bike commuters were eligible for $20 a month, but the benefit was structured as a reimbursement, not a pre-tax deduction, and Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repealed that small benefit in 2017.
Creating a financial incentive for people to bike to work won’t be enough to counteract the forces that keep people from doing it in the first place. For the U.S. to truly become a bike-friendly country, it needs to invest much more heavily in infrastructure like protected bike lanes and cycling trails, and attempt to rein in reckless driver behavior like speeding, which endangers cyclists and pedestrians. But recognizing people who do bike to work with a little extra cash can’t hurt.