Cash in on walking to work

If you walk or ride your bike to work, you could get paid for it.

Beginning this year, federal tax laws let employers offer cash to employees who give up their parking spots at work.

Here's how it works: Say a firm pays $50 a month to lease a parking space. Under the cash-out program, it can offer employees $50 a month to surrender that space.

Before the new law, cash in lieu of free parking did not benefit employers. Firms would lose their ability to write off the parking costs just for offering the choice. "The old law was an incentive to drive," says Matt Nichols, sustainable transportation program coordinator for the Toronto-based International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Free parking is one the largest hidden subsidies to automobile use, Mr. Nichols says, with 95 percent of Americans receiving free parking at work.

Meanwhile, recent research of eight businesses with parking cash-out programs in southern California has shown that carpool use increased by 9 percent, bus riding increased by 3 percent, bicycle and walking to work increased by 1 percent, and single-occupancy car commuting decreased by 13 percent.

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