HAWAII IS UNIMODAL
That is; Hawaiians predominantly use cars to the detriment of other modes of transportation. We get plenty of encouragement. Commuters get bonuses for owning, personalizing and driving four wheel automobiles, often without any passengers. Pre-tax credits; including reimbursements for parking fees, bus passes or other mass transit fees, drive our vehicular economy. We raise the social expectation that cars are the equivalent of personal freedom and self-expression. Cars are not only the single acceptable mode of transportation, they become a status symbol, a cultural icon and a personal possession. Without a car, one is deemed lacking.
The societal impact has captured us. There are over 780,000 vehicles on Oahu. That’s nearly as many cars as the entire island population. All of these cars need to be parked somewhere during the day and then again at night. Twenty four hours a day–both moving and parked–cars dominate the streets. We sit in cars, sometimes for hours per day, in backed up traffic, squeezed between everyone else’s cultural icon and envying or scorning the worth of their status symbol. This endless, sit-down, do-nothing car-time leads to blocked arteries, high-blood pressure and early deaths. Yet, this is what we value–somehow–more than an active and healthy lifestyle.
BASIC NEEDS’ CREDITS
Hawaii is one of the few states that provides refundable tax credits for food and shelter to low income taxpayers.
The renters credit can get you $50 each qualified person in a household (HRS 235-55.7) and the food credit is worth up to $100 for each person on your tax return (HRS 235-55.85). Both the renters and the food tax credits put money back into the hands of low income taxpayers; the people most likely to spend that money on food and shelter.
These incentives reflect the values of a progressive, democratic and compassionate society that takes care of those less fortunate. Both credits provide a practical social benefit program that recognizes the needs of individual members of our community without creating status symbols or cultural icons that lead us into self-destructive behavior.
NO HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CREDIT
For all its progressive ideals, Hawaii lacks incentives for one of our most basic needs; to stay healthy and active throughout our lives. Our largely democratic and ethnically diverse Hawaiian population has little incentive for enjoying the outdoors and being part of the community.
Bicycles, scooters, skates and skateboards are purchased but soon left in the garage or attic to rust. Going to work under human power; to walk, to bike or other multimodal transportation, is not valued as much as driving a car.
To change these social norms–ingrained for decades–Hawaii needs a healthy lifestyle credit. I’m going to propose such a credit, but first we need to understand how the Master Bike Plan and the recently launched Bikeshare program have made our state ready to implement this–first in the Nation—Multimodal Transportation Credit.
Bikesharing is the common ownership of a bunch of bicycles. In Hawaii, the Biki bikeshare program is funded through a public/private, non-profit partnership. Donations to the program have given the people of Oahu over 1,000 bicycles for use by any and all. The program is designed to be self-sufficient and possibly even profitable. Such profits are to be used to improve the bikesharing program.
In theory, any person in Hawaii who needs to get from point A to point B will be able to hop on a Biki bike and get to where they want to go.
In practice, Biki costs more than taking The Bus; $3.50 for a 30 minute ride, and it’s limited to the most populated and tourist heavy areas of Honolulu. So, the question is whether “87 Biki stops with 1,000 bikes between Chinatown and Diamond Head” are enough to make the bikeshare program viable.
Wyatt Gordon, a former intern at Bikeshare Hawaii, said that, at $180 per year, Biki is the most expensive bikesharing program in the country. After studying similar programs across the country, Gordon found that they average about $85 a year. “The way the [Biki] pricing structure is now, I don’t see any locals really planning using this.”
However, with options like $15 per month for unlimited 30-minute rides, $25 per month for unlimited 60-minute rides, and $20 for 300 anytime minutes, the Biki pricing is extremely competitive against a $60 per month bus pass. At least for those who can ride a bicycle and don’t have to travel too far.
Car owners may also need to re-calculate the value they actually get from their vehicles. A car gets about 10 miles per dollar at $3 per gallon (assuming 30 miles per gallon). If you live 2.5 miles from where you work, one dollar gets you two round trip commutes. The $15 per month Biki pass is competitive. With 260 working days in a year, Biki’s $180 annual cost divides out to about seventy cents per day.
Plus no wear and tear on the car, no traffic congestion, no carbon emissions, the added benefits of exercise and time to enjoy this beautiful Hawaiian tropical paradise! A tax credit could be just the incentive we need to change our perspective and our behavior.
THE MASTER BIKE PLAN
The Honolulu Bicycle Master Plan has been around since 1999. Planners have envisioned–long-term–nearly 700 miles of bikeways, including 310 miles in the city. Their goals are based on societal issues such as healthy communities, sustainable practices, energy independence, and transportation economics.
The installation of the King Street protected bike lane proved that the carefully constructed pathway would act as a magnet for cyclists and would have negligible impact on automobile traffic. Barely two miles long, the protected bike lane nearly doubled the number of daily bicycle commuters within one year of its opening day.
People want to get out of their cars. They want to go to work, school, shopping and exercise. They want to improve their health, do something for the planet and participate in a solution.
If you already own a bike, you should be encouraged to ride it. Commute, exercise, enjoy the sunshine and marvel at how many double rainbows appear in our skies nearly everyday. If you already ride, you should be rewarded. If you think you should ride more, a tax credit might just be the incentive you need.
MULTIMODAL TRANSPORTATION CREDIT
A Multimodal Transportation Credit could provide a social, behavioral incentive for Hawaiian residents to improve their health. They may rent a Biki or pump up the tires on their own bicycle. The incentive should reward users for contributing to the success of the bikeshare program. Alternatively, it should help offset the cost of owning and maintaining one’s own bicycle.
Biki should provide user accounts which can be verified at the end of each year. Anytime a Biki bike is taken from a kiosk, the user’s fee can be tracked and logged for proof. Such paid fees can be verified.
Also, with the rise of personal fitness devices, smartphone apps easily track individual rides over the course of a year. From my own personal experience, using these applications makes you want to get out and ride more. Each ride is measured by GPS to within a tenth of a mile. A taxpayer need only attest to the registered bike number, the name of the fitness tracking software and the number of miles ridden each year.
Initially, the credit could be limited to $20 for individuals with adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $30,000, just like the renter’s credit. In subsequent years, the AGI limit and / or the actual credit could be increased by inflation or by some set amount.
While some might be inclined to cheat just for $20 of tax credit, each year every Honolulu taxpayer would get an education in the first-ever healthy lifestyle credit offered in the United States.
As the program is refined and matures into a measurable lifestyle changer for Hawaii residents, the Multimodal Transportation Credit can become the model for other States to aspire to having a healthier population.
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§235-55.? Income tax credit for multimodal transportation users.
- a) As used in this section:
- (1) “Adjusted gross income” is defined by section 235-1.
- (2) “Qualified exemption” includes those exemptions permitted under this chapter; provided that a person for whom exemption is claimed has physically resided in the State for more than nine months during the taxable year; and provided that multiple exemption shall not be granted because of deficiencies in vision, hearing, or other disability.
- (3) “Multimodal transport vehicles” include bicycles, electric bicycles (e-bikes), and self-balancing unicycles. All multimodal transport vehicles shall be registered in accordance with HRS §249-14.
- (4) “Multimodal transportation” means a transportation infrastructure system designed to convey people by multimodal transport vehicles as well as bus, train, automobile, and other motorized transporation.
- (5) “Bikeshare program” means a program sponsored by public and private dollars providing short-range transportation for commuters and visitors. The purchase of time on a Biki bike is not just a rental of a transport vehicle, but a contribution to a program intended to change social norms about living a healthier lifestyle.
- (6) etc…
- (b) Each taxpayer living within the State as a resident, who is not eligible to be claimed as a dependent for federal or state income taxes by another, and who files an individual net income tax return for a taxable year, may claim a tax credit under this section against the resident taxpayer’s Hawaii state individual net income tax.
- (1) Each taxpayer with an adjusted gross income of less than $30,000 who has paid more than $100.00 to a bikeshare program during the taxable year for which the credit is claimed may claim a tax credit of $20; provided each taxpayer sixty-five years of age or over may claim double the tax credit; and provided that a resident individual who has no income or no income taxable under this chapter may also claim the tax credit as set forth in this section.
- (2) Each taxpayer with an adjusted gross income of less than $30,000 who has used a multimodal commuter transport vehicle for over 200 days or over 500 miles during the taxable year for which the credit is claimed may claim a tax credit of $20; provided each taxpayer sixty-five years of age or over may claim double the tax credit; and provided that a resident individual who has no income or no income taxable under this chapter may also claim the tax credit as set forth in this section.
- (d) The tax credits shall be deductible from the taxpayer’s individual net income tax for the tax year in which the credits are properly claimed; provided that a husband and wife filing separate returns for a taxable year for which a joint return could have been made by them shall claim only the tax credits to which they would have been entitled had a joint return been filed. In the event the allowed tax credits exceed the amount of the income tax payments due from the taxpayer, the excess of credits over payments due shall be refunded to the taxpayer; provided that allowed tax credits properly claimed by an individual who has no income tax liability shall be paid to the individual; and provided further that no refunds or payments on account of the tax credits allowed by this section shall be made for amounts less than $1.
- (e) The director of taxation shall prepare and prescribe the appropriate form or forms to be used herein, may require proof of the claim for tax credits, and may adopt rules pursuant to chapter 91.
- (f) All of the provisions relating to assessments and refunds under this chapter and under section 231-23(c)(1) shall apply to the tax credits hereunder.
- (h) Claims for tax credits under this section, including any amended claims thereof, shall be filed on or before the end of the twelfth month following the taxable year for which the credit may be claimed.
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” You’ll buy a half-hour for $3.50 or, better, a $20 pass with 300 minutes on it. “Ride to lunch that day for 10 minutes, you have 290 minutes left to use,” says Trevino. “The pass never expires.””
“… prices for casual users, with confusing fares and escalating overtime penalties, were the money makers. Confused users subsidize savvy “dock surfers” who link together rides from station to station always remaining under the 30-minute time limit….
received a grant from the city and state totaling $2 million that cannot be used to purchase equipment. This grant has supported our planning, outreach, start up, launch and early operating expenses, and has not yet been fully utilized.”
“Wyatt Gordon, a former intern at Bikeshare Hawaii, said the cheapest option for island residents is a $15 monthly pass, or $180 annually — the highest in the country. He studied similar programs in cities such as Boston, Denver and San Francisco, which average about $85 a year. “The way the pricing structure is now, I don’t see any locals really planning using this.”
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