- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

As a federal employee, Marc Gwadz, of Bethesda, could receive a stipend to take public transportation to work every day. But because Mr. Gwadz rides his bicycle — a healthier and more environmentally friendly approach — he’s on his own to cover expenses.

Such situations have businesses experimenting with ways to give monetary incentives to employees who bike to work. Google, for example, makes donations to employees’ favorite charities for each day they commute to work on bicycle, on foot or using in-line skates.

But changes for federal employees have been slow to come, so some workers have created their own benefit system.

At the National Institutes of Health, workers can get five “bike bucks” for every 100 miles they commute, which they can redeem when buying supplies at two local bike shops. The program was the idea of Jill DiMauro, owner of Proteus Bicycles, in College Park, after talking to NIH biologist Angela Atwood-Moore, who rides her bike six miles each way to the agency’s headquarters, in Bethesda.

Cycling to work is in one sense free — propelling a bicycle with one’s legs costs nothing. But cyclists have expenses, Miss Atwood-Moore said.

“Bikes can be expensive,” she said. “You need lights. You need helmets. You need shoes. You need panniers and bags to carry the clothes that you’re going to change into. Cycling doesn’t have to be expensive, but we’re also kidding ourselves if we think it’s as easy as pulling a dusty old bike out of the garage.”

The NIH program has almost quintupled from the 25 employees who signed up in January 2007. NIH riders earned $1,655 Bike Bucks in the first six months of this year, and the program expanded in June to include employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with its headquarters on Constitution Avenue Northwest.

It has helped Mr. Gwadz, a contracting scientist at the National Library of Medicine, who has commuted on bike for more than 10 years. He rides 20 miles each day — “pretty much rain, shine, cold, heat,” he said. And he earns more than 100 Bike Bucks every six months. Mr. Gwadz recently used Bike Bucks to cover half his purchase of $230 bicycle shoes.

Incentives such as the Bike Bucks program are necessary if private and public organizations want to increase the number of cyclists, he said.

“One parking spot is probably worth tens of thousands of dollars, and they just give it away,” he said. “If they want people to stop using that spot, you make it more enticing. People aren’t going to change over just because you tell them about it.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, is seeking federal legislation allowing incentives for bicycle commuters. He has pushed to include cyclists in transportation fringe benefits since 2001. Mr. Blumenauer’s bill, which provides for a $20 monthly benefit for cyclists, passed the House in May and awaits Senate approval.

“For me, doing something to reward people who burn calories instead of fossil fuel is a way to start leveling the playing field and give people choices for what’s right for them,” he said.

Mr. Blumenauer hopes the federal government will catch up to the example of private companies. For instance, Discovery Communications Inc., of Silver Spring, which runs the Discovery Channel, offers employees a one-time, $350 benefit for the purchase of a bicycle.

Health insurance company Humana offers employees bicycles to travel to meetings on its nearly mile-long stretch of offices in Louisville, Ky. Employees also can check out bikes for their commutes, company spokesman Jim Turner said. In addition, cycling racks up miles on company-issued pedometers for a program that awards active employees with up to $400 annually in gift certificates.

“The health benefit is especially important to us,” Mr. Turner said. “This is one of the things we’re doing to try to make it easier for all of our employees to exercise regularly … but also it is good for the downtown environment. It’s good for less pollution in the air. It’s just fun, too.”

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