If you thought the $700 billion federal credit bailout bill held nothing in it for you, wait — there is a shiny spot for bicyclists — $20.
Commuters who bike to work on a consistent basis may, by the beginning of next year, qualify for a $20 monthly payment from their employer and employers can deduct up to $20 per employee per month from their taxable income.
A local shop owner sees this as a chance for cash-strapped Rim Country workers to get a break in their wallets and get healthy.
“This tax incentive for bicycle commuters benefits local businesses as much as it benefits those who start going by bike,” said the owner of Hike, Bike and Run, Mick Wolf.
The Bicycle Commuter Act allows an employer to compensate any employee who regularly travels to work for bike improvements, repairs and storage up to $240 a year.
Wolf said he has already seen an increase in workers trading in their cars for bikes.
“If you looked at Payson even a few years ago, the only people who rode, did because they were forced to because they had a DUI or they were already cyclists,” Wolf said.
With high gas prices, and a crashing housing and stock market, people are streaming into his shop looking for an alternative.
“A local contractor who is struggling to make it, came in and bought a bike,” Wolf said.
“Many Realtors, builders and similar workers are losing work, and because of this, people are starting to think that getting around by bicycle is a good idea.
Banner Health surgeon Luis Coppelli said he rides his bike five miles most days to work from Star Valley.
“I started because of the health impact, second the price of gas and saving money, and third for the environmental impact.
He encourages his staff of 25 to ride their bikes and hopes to start a ride-to-work program that offers incentives, like a credit card through Banner Health’s bonus program.
“It is for everyone in the office to get away from driving a car to the office that, in most instances, is a very inefficient gas-guzzling SUV or large truck,” Coppelli said.
“I encourage them to ride and I try to lead by example.”
Coppelli’s lead by example approach has failed so far, with none of the staff choosing to ride.
“It only takes 10 minutes more to get to work by bike,” Coppelli said. “I know people are worried about safety, but if more people take to bikes and walking, drivers would be more aware and maybe the town will put in more bike lanes.”
Cynthia Pool, a chemistry teacher at Payson High School commutes more than 30 miles from Tonto Basin to work during the summer months.
Pool leaves her home by 4:45 a.m. to make it to school by 7:30 a.m.
“Going uphill, it takes me two-and-a-half hours to get to school, but I can get home in less than an hour-and-a-half,” Pool said. “My students think I am crazy.”
Pool competes in bike races and uses the uphill ride as a training tool.
“If I lived in Payson, I would ride my bike everywhere, to the grocery store, everywhere, but it would be very difficult from Tonto Basin to ride every day,” she said.
“I would like some of the roads to become more bicycle-friendly, because the scariest part of my ride is coming into Rye where there is no shoulder.”
For most who live within the Payson town limits, getting around by bike is easier than straining up a mountain.
“Payson is small, easy to get around and the weather is typically mild. We are the most perfect town to live in for bike commuting,” Wolf said. “You can bypass the highway by taking neighborhood streets and avoid most hills. Most towns are horrible to get around in.”
Even with an ideal setting, Wolf said it is hard to sell bikes in a budget-conscious town. Most bike shops would be ashamed to sell $300 bikes, which Wolf typically sells.
“It’s hard to get people to understand why it is worth buying a $300 to $400 bicycle from a local bike shop,” Wolf said. “The same people who want to buy a bicycle, but refuse to spend $300 on one are likely the same people who are spending $50 to $100 to fill up on gas, and at the end of the month, have an empty tank and nothing to show for it.”
A bike will last for years and has minimal upkeep except for airing the tires and greasing the chain once a month. With the new act, the cost of maintenance will be next to zero.
“If you spend $300 on a bicycle, at the end of the first month you have a $300 bicycle and at the end of a year, you have a $300 bicycle,” Wolf said.
“It’s an investment that makes so much more sense than a lot of what people spend money on.”
If money is an issue, dusting off that long forgotten bike in the garage is a solution. Wolf’s shop does repairs and maintenance on all bikes.
“My shop is seeing a lot of people bring bikes out of the closet so they can commute around Payson on bicycle,” Wolf said.
“If more people rode their bikes, people might be healthier, wealthier and even happier.”
Details of the commuter act, located in the renewable energy alternatives section of the bailout plan, will be ironed out before the program begins early next year.