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The Bicycle Commute Benefits Act, Reimburses Riders Up To $20 A Month
Mon Jan 26, 2009
Source: Kennebec Journal
MAINE - With forecasts of snow and chilly temperatures, avid Maine cyclists may be casting a forlorn look at their bicycles sitting in their garages, waiting for warmer weather to hit the streets.
A federal incentive program aims to get some of those bicyclists out of their vehicles and back onto two wheels sooner rather than later, when it comes to commuting to work.
The Bicycle Commuter Benefits Act, signed into law last October by President George W. Bush, is an optional-benefits program allowing cyclists who commute to work using two wheels instead of four to be reimbursed up to $20 a month for costs the rider incurs.
The reimbursements, similar to companies reimbursing employees for gasoline costs, could go toward safety equipment such as a helmet, new tires for the bicycle or a bicycle tune-up.
While this program may work better in different parts of the United States -- for example, Portland, Ore., or Seattle, two communities built for bicycle and foot traffic -- it could work in Augusta and Waterville, local riders and business owners say.
Mike Campbell of Gardiner would be one employee eligible for the act.
Campbell works for Auclair's Cycle and Ski. He often rides his bicycle to work, depending on the weather. If there is too much slush or snow, he takes public transportation.
Campbell does not own a motor vehicle, preferring the bicycle or a skateboard to get around. He said he knows several like-minded people in the area. When he bicycles to Auclair's on Bangor Street in Augusta, his commute takes 65 minutes.
"It's a peaceful ride and you get a nice view of the (Kennebec) river," Campbell said, referring to the Kennebec River Rail Trail.
The incentive act could come in handy, he said, especially when it comes to bicycle tune-ups and maintenance.
"I mean, the money would help with repairs, like flat tires, and when cars nick you," Campbell said. "I think this is a good incentive to get other cyclists out there and let the know the government is behind us."
Campbell's employer, David Auclair, owner of Auclair's Cycle and Ski, agreed.
"From talking to customers, I can tell there's some commuting (by bicycle) going on, but to what degree, it's hard to say," said Auclair, who also is a member of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine's board of directors. "I don't know how well this kind of program will work in a rural-urban community, but it will have some effect and bring some awareness to bikers and their employers."
The biggest hurdle to seeing more bicycle commuters isn't necessarily weather. Instead, it's city infrastructure and bicycle-friendly commuting laws.
"Getting around our cities on bikes needs to be worked on," Auclair said. "This act will probably help the awareness needed to identify routes for cyclists and to this option for transportation in general, but it's not the first or last step."
Steve Naas, owner of Kennebec Bike and Ski in Hallowell, said riding isn't easy on area roads. "I have peers in Maine who live in bigger metro areas with more developed infrastructure, so it's easier for them to get around," Naas said.
Lack of bicycle lanes, roads in need of maintenance and few bicycle trails other than the Kennebec River Rail Trail all contribute to more motor vehicles being on the road, and fewer bicyclists, Naas and Auclair said.
"In this area, I knew of some people who wanted to bike to work, but they ended up not doing it," Naas said. "People have to make the commitment to do it, and many of them don't feel safe having to bike on the street."
Auclair believes the Bicycle Commute Benefits Act is "just a piece of the whole pie" when it comes to making the city more pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly.
"Anyone living in Augusta can certainly commute to work in Augusta easily without a vehicle," Auclair said. "The possibilities are quite huge."
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