As a veteran bike commuter, I applaud the The Daily Pennsylvanian for calling attention to this increasingly popular practice. Yes, it is possible to ride to work safely, even from five or 10 miles away, and even in bad weather. It takes care and planning, but the benefits are considerable. In addition to decreasing energy consumption and the emission of greenhouse gases, cycling improves physical and mental health, thus reducing healthcare costs for the entire community over the long term.
Why, then, does the University not support bike commuting? To be sure, plenty of lip service is given. But when (ahem) the rubber meets the road, Penn puts its money elsewhere.
In 2008, Congress passed the Bicycle Commuter Act, which provides a $20-per-month tax benefit to cover employees’ bike commuting expenses. The federal government reimburses employers who provide this benefit, but so far Penn has said no. Why? I have been told several times that “the University does not have the required systems in place to handle the required administration.” Really? Penn offers both a subsidized parking benefit and a subsidized transit-pass benefit to employees and somehow finds the “required systems” to administer those perks. Effectively, we subsidize the problem — the sedentary gas-guzzling commute — but we can’t subsidize the solution, even at a paltry $20 a month.
I felt sure that Penn would jump at this chance to demonstrate its green, problem-solving leadership role in the community. No such luck. It is time for Penn to take action to back up its lofty rhetoric and join the many employers who are making Philadelphia a better, healthier, cleaner place to live and work.
David S. Barnes
Associate Professor of History and Sociology of Science
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