Government trying to kill bicycle commuter tax benefit

Government trying to kill bicycle commuter tax benefit

In their most recent attempt to overhaul the federal tax code, elected officials have touted their new plan as being good for low-income and middle class people. 

That is obviously not true. The plan is a big corporate tax cut. It not only adds $1.5 trillion to the national debt, but actually reduces taxes on the super-wealthy while ending deductions and benefits often used by everyone else.

In its current form, the Senate’s tax bill ends deductions for state and local taxes, and ends deductions for teachers buying their own classroom supplies, among other things. Until recent backlash, those writing the bill tried to kill the tax credit for families who adopt children. Thirty-one percent of middle-class households will pay higher taxes by 2027, according to the Tax Policy Center.

But this column is about bicycling. And I’ll have you know that bicyclists, too, will be punished in the tax overhaul.

One of the deductions the government is trying to kill to pay for their massive tax breaks is the Bicycle Commuter Benefit. The Bicycle Commuter Benefit was created in 2009 as a way to encourage more people to commute by bicycle — and more businesses to encourage their employees to do so. 

It does so by allowing any employer to provide a reimbursement of up to $20 per month for “reasonable expenses” incurred by the employee who bikes to work. 

It’s a pretty simple and modest benefit, a no-brainer for employers, and helps reduce the need for cities to provide street-level parking. It’s being adopted by Philadelphia employers who see the obvious benefits of such a program.

In 2016, the University of Pennsylvania adopted the tax credit for its employees, making it the largest employer in Philadelphia to do so. 

Penn’s employees, according to a great new report on the school’s bike commuters by Lauren Rebecca Thacker, come from all over the place: Swarthmore, Queen Village, Powelton Village, Bala Cynwyd, Landenberg, Rittenhouse and plenty of other towns and neighborhoods throughout the region. 

They make up just some of the thousands of people who commute to work or school in Philadelphia every day.

Not everyone can commute by bicycle, for sure, but those who can and do save big on their commute — something that should probably be encouraged. The average motor vehicle user spends $4,500 per year on gas and other expenses, while the average bike commuter spends $350 per year on things like tune ups and gear. 

And what’s even weirder about killing the bike commuter benefit is how the U.S. government wants to keep commuter benefits for those who drive cars. The tax plan keeps in place a program which allows employees to use up to $225 per month in pre-tax income pay for transit vouchers, commuter highway fares and parking fees. 

Commuter benefits on the whole cost $8.6 billion per year, while the the Joint Committee on Taxation found the bike commuter benefit to cost just $1 million per year.

None of this too surprising. Federal tax cuts in the recent political era have always been about an upward transfer of wealth to appease super-wealthy campaign funders. But that doesn’t make this new cynical attempt to cut taxes for the wealthy, and benefits for everyone else, any less disappointing.