Confusion, Sweet Confusion: The Commuter Relief Act

Two weeks ago, on June 1st, I wrote an article for Commute by Bike explaining the Commuter Relief Act. This proposed piece of legislation was introduced by longtime bicycle advocate U.S. House Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore, and it seeks to incentivize "public transit benefits, vanpools, and other market-based solutions."

One of the provisions that was listed on Rep. Blumenauer's website was an increase in the allowable bike benefit, from $20 to $40 per month,  that employers can provide to employees who choose to commute to work by bike. This increase in bike benefits was subsequently reported by a number of bicycle-centric organizations, including the League of American Bicyclists and Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

Congresman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)
Congresman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) | Photo: BikePortland

When researching my piece for Commute by Bike, I referenced many well-respected bike sites–from Rep. Blumenauer's official site to reputable bike blogs such as the League of American Bicyclists and Streetsblog. All of the information regarding the increase in bike benefits was consistent; the amount would increase from $20 to $40 per month and could also be combined with other transit benefits if the Commuter Relief Act was adopted.

Admittedly, I was late to the party, reporting on the act more than a week after it was announced by Blumenauer, but the responses to the post came pouring in. Some people stated that we should stop using government funds to subsidize transportation in general and let the economics of riding a bike versus driving a car speak for themselves. Others questioned whether $40 was enough to make anyone change his or her lifestyle or if there was any chance that this legislation would even make it through the House. One reader, Jon, asked where this increase to $40 was actually written in the bill.

As it turns out, Jon posed an excellent question. I am not a lawyer, but I could not locate language in the bill itself that indicated an increase in bike benefits to $40.

In an attempt to clarify the discrepancy between the bill and the explanation on Rep. Blumenaur's site, I filled out a contact form on his website, within which I was required to include my name and address. After spending approximately twenty minutes carefully crafting my questions to the congressman, I sent the message, only to receive the following response:

Screen Shot of Blumenauer Contact Form

Apparently, despite the fact that representatives can serve on national committees and propose legislation that can affect all Americans, you must have the correct zip code to ask the corresponding congressman a question.

Interestingly, the paragraph regarding the increase to bike benefits is no longer present on Rep. Blumenauer's website, although the $40 benefit is still referenced in another explanation of change. Additionally, according to Jon's comment on Commute By Bike, someone at the League confirmed his suspicion, although the League has not yet updated the blog post or responded to me directly.

MultiModal Transportation - $40 Benefit

What does all of this mean? It means that politicians' websites are not always completely accurate when explaining proposed legislation. It means that reports regarding legislation do not always get it right the first time. And it means that getting a straight answer is not always an easy task.

Rep. Blumenauer encourages all of us to be "bike-partisan" and has been a very important supporter of bicycle advocacy in Congress. I am not suggesting that his efforts and his dedication should be diminished because of the way that the Commuter Relief Act has been presented, but I am asking for a straight answer on how this bill could potentially change the commuter benefits for cyclists.

Missing: $40 If found, please return to Commuter Relief Act
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