Jump Start Employee Biking: How It Can Roll

Shot of a young businesswoman traveling with a bicycle through the cityBy Joshua Cantor, CAPP, and Janet Walker

After the tax law changes of December 2017 eliminated the monthly $20 pre-tax bicycling commuting benefit, George Mason University needed to recalibrate its employee biking program, which is an important cog (pun intended) of the transportation program. We needed to find a way to incentivize faculty and staff bicyclists to keep commuting by bike and to persuade others to bike.

The university’s transportation department did a top-down assessment, including our cycling stakeholders in focus groups and conducting outreach with cyclists during the drafting process. Besides figuring out what was important to cyclists, we had to involve our payroll department, which now would be involved in processing a taxable benefit. A brand new, three-tier incentive system was rolled out in the first quarter of 2019. Employees under the new program could earn benefits such as direct payments, complimentary parking passes, and annual funding for bike maintenance from a local bike shop based on how often and how far they rode to campus. The maximum benefit annually is more than $1300, compared to $240 annually in the older program when bicycle benefits were pre-tax.

A year later, COVID-19 put the program on hold for a bit but gradually, the faculty/staff cyclists are returning. We even added a new introductory tier of support in January 2021 to try to encourage new cyclists who are returning to campus as we progress through the pandemic.

With thousands of employees returning to work in person, it is important to keep incentivizing people to bike to work and reduce our single occupancy vehicle demand, especially as Mason plans to grow considerably and is hoping to reduce the amount of parking that is constructed in the future.

Joshua Cantor, CAPP, is director of parking and transportation, and Janet Walker is manager of transportation programs at George Mason University. They will present on this topic at the 2021 IPMI Parking & Mobility Conference & Expo, Nov. 29 – Dec. 3, in Tampa, Fla. Click here for details and to register.