Lance Armstrong may not have a work commute five days a week through heavy traffic, but if he did, you can bet that he’d be asking his employer to make cycling a more attractive option by offering bike benefits.
Under current law, employers can provide employees with a tax-free reimbursement of up to $20 a month to cover reasonable expenses incurred in conjunction with their commute to work by bike. The benefit isn’t without its limitations, and employers probably have to look beyond that whopping sum of $240 per year to get employees to start pedaling to the office, but at least it’s something.
In order to qualify for the tax-free benefit, employees must regularly bike to work during the month they receive the reimbursement. In addition, employees can’t receive the bike benefit in any month they receive parking or transit benefits. Many employees, even those that bike to work several days per week, may prefer to stick with those other commuter benefit options because of how much more generous they are. In 2015, employers can provide employees with tax-free parking benefits worth up to $250 per month or transit benefits worth up to $130 per month.
Employees that do receive the bike benefit can put it toward the purchase of a decent commuter bicycle or use it to pay for such things as bike parking facilities, shower facilities, a bike lock or helmet. But the benefit can only be used to reimburse employees for substantiated expenses, meaning employers must require employees to provide receipts or certify their expenses, and the expenses must be incurred in the same month that the $20 benefit is received. As a result, the purchase of that commuter bike would have to be done on a monthly installment plan, since employees couldn’t put several months’ worth of benefits toward a bike that they purchase outright with a one-time payment.
There’s legislation working its way through Congress that would expand the bike benefit to allow employees to use the $20 per month toward membership fees in bike-sharing programs, which allow people to rent bikes and drop them off at other locations. If the legislation passes, it may encourage additional people to opt for a two-wheeled commute in places that offer bike sharing.
Even if that added component becomes a reality, it’s easy to see how a reimbursement of $20 per month—which requires time and paperwork to receive and knocks out the option of receiving parking or transit benefits—might not do a whole lot to convince employees to start cycling to work. So here are some ideas for other steps employers can take to encourage employees to bike to work:
For more ideas on how to make their workplaces more bike friendly, employers should contact local bicycle clubs and ask them for tips on the types of programs and benefits that are important to cyclists in their area.
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