By Bill Parry
U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) rode a Citibike onto Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, where he announced new legislation that would allow workers to use their pre-tax commuter benefits for bike share programs.
The Bike to Work Act of 2014 promotes greater usage of Citi Bike, increases revenue for the program and helps secure its expansion to Queens.
“Thousands of New Yorkers have already embraced the city’s bike share program as a viable, environmentally friendly and cost-effective form of public transportation,” Crowley said. “That is why I’m introducing legislation that further encourages participation in the program by making it more affordable for commuters.
The congressman’s legislation amends the Internal Revenue Code by including bike-sharing systems as a means of public transportation, clearing the way for workers to use their commuter benefits for the program, just as they do with subway, bus and rail passes.
“It will increase connectivity and improve the health of New Yorkers and take more cars off of our congested streets,” Crowley said.
He did not provide any estimated savings for bike-sharing commuters, but subway, bus and rail commuters save between 25 percent to 40 percent with the pre-tax benefits.
Crowley was joined by state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), who said, “More people biking to work means less stress on our public transportation system, less pollution and better health for our commuters.”
Moya added that Portland, Oregon, where bike sharing was embraced years ago, will save $594 million in health care savings over the next 30 years while saving millions more in fuel costs.
Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, was also at Diversity Plaza to endorse Crowley’s legislation.
“Even before bike share’s instant success, bicycling was the fastest growing form of transportation in New York City,” White said. “Now, bike sharing is accelerating that growth even more — with more than 100,000 members to date. We can’t imagine the city without it, so it’s time for the IRS to recognize bike share as the popular commuting option that it is and work with Rep. Crowley and Congress to pass this bill. There’s no better recognition of becoming mainstream than being written into the tax code.”
White added that a new investor in Citi Bike will be announced in the coming weeks. The program lost millions in its first year operating in just Manhattan and Brooklyn. Hurricane Sandy set the program back even further by destroying 90 stations and 1,000 bikes.
The legislation could be a boost for Citi Bike, which may have to raise its $95 membership fee to $140 per year to keep up with expenses.
Josh Benson, of the city Department of Transportation, said there is no timetable for Citi Bike’s arrival in Queens and that Astoria is the only neighborhood tentatively scheduled for bike stations.
The bike Crowley rode to the press event was from Brooklyn.
“One of my constituents from Sunnyside made the arrangements for the bike,” Crowley said. “And she rode it all the way from Brooklyn, too.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.