September 21, 2021

To evade taxman, hop on a bike [don’t stash cash in Caymans]

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bicycles-46aBy Catey Hill, MarketWatch

Sen. Chuck Schumer proposes tax break for bike commutes

What does using a bike-share program have in common with stashing cash in the Cayman Islands? Both may soon be tax shelters.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said Tuesday he’s introducing an amendment to a tax bill that would allow workers who commute via bike-share programs like New York’s Citi Bike to get a tax break; the bill is set to be debated on Thursday. The tax break would let employees biking to work exclude $20 a month from their income for income tax purposes if they have an employer-provided bike-sharing membership.

Though that sum may sound insignificant, the IRS’s current position is that bike-share fees do not count as a commuter fringe benefit—meaning that employers that provide employees with a bike-share benefit can’t exclude its cost from an employee’s gross income, like they can with monthly parking or mass transit costs—or even the cost of storing or buying a bike you ride to work (up to $20 in 2013). What’s more, the IRS said last year that a move of this sort would require legislative action.

“Bike-share programs are an efficient, healthy, and clean form of mass transportation, and they should be treated the same way under the tax code as we treat car and mass transit commuters,” said Schumer in a statement. “It makes no sense for cars, trains, buses, and private bicycles to be covered by this program but not bike shares, and this legislation will fix that.”

While this amendment would certainly delight the thousands of travelers who commute to work via bike-sharing programs, there’s certainly no guarantee it will pass. Indeed, the amendment will be part of a larger “tax extenders” bill that will address renewal of some 50 tax credits and deductions that expired last year. But Schumer seems confident that that this amendment would be part of a “must-pass” senate tax bill that will be debated Thursday.

This move comes as bike riding and bike-share program access are on the rise. Bike riding is growing faster than other forms of transit, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Public Transportation. Plus, more cities are adding–and expanding–bike-share programs. Citi Bike in New York launched last year and–despite its financial troubles–recently had its 7 millionth ride and has more than 100,000 annual members, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. (Schumer’s amendment could be a “major boost” for Citi Bike, his office said in a statement). Other cities with bike-sharing programs include Houston, Louisville, Kansas City, Chicago and dozens of others; and a number of cities like Philadelphia (fall 2014) are planning to launch these programs.

Whether or not Schumer’s amendment passes, some employers already pay for their employees to bike to work. New York-based tech company Percolate covers the annual fees of a Citi Bike membership and New York’s Citi Bike told public radio station WNYC that “we’ve heard from over 30 businesses already that they would really like to buy Citi Bike as a perk or as a health and wellness benefit for their employees.” Other employers incentivize workers to bike to work in different ways, for instance, by paying them to bike rather than drive or providing free bikes to use on the corporate campus.



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