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Federal Bailout Offers Incentive For Commuters To Bike To Work

This story was written by Matthew Peters, Daily Californian

Buried in the depths of the 451-page $700 billion federal economic bailout plan is a small, two-page incentive that could give bicyclists money for pedaling to work.

With a projected $1 million annual price tag, the federal government is offering a tax write-off to employers to reward workers who regularly commute by bicycle. Starting Jan. 1, bike commuters can be reimbursed $20 each month by their employers.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 488,497 people nationwide commute to work using a bicycle.

Similar reimbursements already exist-$115 each month for commuters who use public transit and $220 for those who incur parking fees.

Many advocates see the new $20 incentive as a recognition of the equal importance of bicycle use among other types of transportation.

"It's a matter of equity," said Robert Raburn, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. "It's that we're providing something we've already provided for other modes of transportation. The incentive legitimizes the bicycle community."

Although employers will not be obligated to reimburse their employees for biking to work, those who do will receive a tax write-off from the federal government.

Raburn said the Bay Area has a particularly high percentage of bicycle commuters when compared to the rest of the nation. On May 15, tens of thousands of people commuted to work in the Bay Area to celebrate "Bike to Work Day," he said.

The Downtown Berkeley BART station's bicycle garage is usually over capacity, often storing more than 100 bicycles for local commuters.

"Bicycling in Berkeley is jumping and jumping quickly," said Gregg Horton, 21, who is a mechanic at the garage. "We've been hitting hundreds more, and more with more people getting out and biking."

Horton, who commutes to work by bicycle, said the $20 would probably not convince non-bicyclists to commute by bike, though he said it would help those who already do.

"I'll probably upgrade some of my parts," he said. "If you need to keep a bike in working order, $20 is a good amount."

Another bicyclist, Dennis Gomes, 38, who treks from Hayward to do plumbing work in Berkeley, said the incentive would not help because his employer would disapprove.

"It would be a hassle (to request reimbursement) because my employer would probably frown on that," he said.

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