Chatham University

Sustainability & the Environment

Chatham music prof pedals toward green tax savings

Michael Boyd

To call Michael Boyd, assistant professor of music, an avid cyclist is an understatement. He and his family are often seen more on their bicycles than in a car. So when he thought that riding a bike to work might count for more than exercise, he hit the Internet.

“Since so many “green” renovations and purchases can earn a tax credit, I wondered whether something similar existed for bike commuting,” he explains. “Much to my surprise I found that there was indeed an employer-based credit that passed with the stimulus package.”

The particular program was included as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and reimburses full–time employees who commute to work by bicycle for reasonable expenses up to $20 a month. The reimbursements are excludable from an employee’s gross income and not subject to federal income tax.

After further research with the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group, Mike contacted Frank Greco, director of human resources, to see if Chatham could offer it in the same way that parking permits are offered through pre–tax deductions. After further research by Frank and Jennifer Lundy, assistant vice president for finance and administration, the program was officially launched in April 2010, making Chatham the first private institution in Pittsburgh, if not Pennsylvania, to offer the benefit.

According to IRS guidelines, employees who sign up for this benefit are not be permitted to have a campus parking permit and are required to certify that cycling is their primary mode of transportation to and from work during the time frame in which they receive the reimbursement. An employee may be reimbursed on a tax–free basis for reasonable expenses incurred during the calendar year for the purchase of a bicycle, improvements, repair and equipment provided that the bicycle is used regularly to travel between the employee’s residence and Chatham’s Shadyside, Eastside, and Eden Hall locations.

“I was very impressed with how quickly the University embraced and launched this initiative,” Mike says. “It’s easy to do here because Chatham is so small and you don’t have to go through multiple levels of bureaucracy to present an idea.” So far, about six employees have signed up for the benefit.

Mike’s effort didn’t go unrewarded. He soon networked with Mary Whitney, the campus sustainability coordinator, and got involved with the climate committee and later with the campus fitness committee. His current volunteer effort is focused on reviving the Chatham Bike Collective and bike workshop, and collaborating with Mary Whitney to install more bike racks.

“Pittsburgh’s topography can make biking difficult but the East End is really the ideal location for bicyclists since there are several bike lanes through the neighborhoods,” he says. “And with the free bus pass program that the University offers, an employee can rack their bike to a bus and commute almost anywhere in the county. And if you ever need a car on campus, there’s always the new Zipcar service.

“Chatham has really made a dedicated effort toward sustainable practices, especially those that seem out of the mainstream, and I’m proud to have been involved in the process”

 

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