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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent $27,500 providing subsidies to its employees who bike to work as part of an effort to reduce the agency’s carbon footprint.
Since 2011, the agency has offered $20 subsidies that can be redeemed at local bike shops for employees who pledge to be a “zero-polluter bicycle commuter.” The NIH also has an employee-sponsored bike club that encourages its members to use a database to report drivers who are “hostile to cyclists.”
“These commuters are essential in assisting NIH in becoming a healthier, greener workplace as well as reducing traffic congestion near their workplaces,” the NIH said.
The NIH has the most bicyclists of any federal agency in the D.C. area and has taken advantage of a fringe transportation benefit written into the Internal Revenue Code that allows government agencies to provide subsidies for bikers.
“The NIH has had a robust bicycling community with as many as 400-500 bicyclists commuting during ideal weather and many diehard bicyclists who commute in any kind of weather,” Brad Moss, communications director of the Office of Research Services at the NIH told the Washington Free Beacon. “The benefits of bicycling are well documented and NIH believes this is an important alternative transportation mechanism.”
Moss said the biker subsidy program started after the agency looked at “several ways to mitigate traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gases in our region.” Employees who receive the biker subsidy are not eligible for parking benefits or Transhare, which provides benefits for employees who take the metro.
Other agencies have followed the NIH and started their own bicycle subsidy programs, including the entire Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Transportation.
Moss said an average of 106 NIH employees participate in the program each month, and the agency even has bicycle commuters at its biomedical research facility in Hamilton, Montana.
“These participants are primarily located at the Bethesda campus, but we do have participants at NIH’s locations in Montana, Massachusetts, and North Carolina,” Moss said. Moss confirmed that the agency spent $27,500 in 2014 for the bicycle commuter program.
The NIH also spends federal funds to promote biking to work, using emails, newsletters, websites, Twitter, lunchtime lectures, new employee orientation presentations, and seminars. Moss did not quantify the total cost for these efforts.
Separate from the subsidy program—and not government-funded—is the NIH “Bicycle Commuter Club,” or NIH Bikes!, which was organized by employees. Members are charged fees, and the group offers coupons known as “Bike Bucks” that provide discounts at bike shops. The group holds rallies on “Bike to Work Day.”
The employee-run group also encourages its bikers to use a “Close Call Database,” where bikers can report on “problem drivers” who do not like bicyclists and then report them to the police.
“Drivers that are hostile to cyclists are often serial offenders,” the website for the database states. “Cataloging their aggression and documenting their hostility towards cyclists provides important information to fellow cyclists, local police, and prosecutors.”
“When you record an incident here, it will be shared with cyclists in your area,” it continued. “When other cyclists report an Incident, it will be shared with you. When problem drivers are identified, this site will contact police where the Incidents have occurred so that they can intervene before another tragedy occurs.”
“If that same driver does harm a cyclist at a later date, the information in the Incident Reports will help ensure that justice is served,” it said.