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  1. #1
    Senior Member AlanK's Avatar
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    Is it Fair to Implement Some Taxes/Fees for Car-Free Bicyclists?

    Like many who post in this forum bicycling is my exclusive tranportation (occasionally transit). I've been talking with some of the people I work with who argue that bicyclists should NOT be allowed on the road since we don't contribute any revenue for roads and maintenance, etc. For those of us who are carless this seems to be true: Since I don't own a car, I don't pay any fees/taxes for licensing, parking, or gas taxes. So it seems they have some point here. I'm undecided on this issue, but here are my thoughts right now:

    - Bicyclists are far less demanding on infrastructure than motorists - they occupy little road-space and cause very little road deterioration. In general there aren't nearly as many problems and public expense associated with bicycling as there are autos [pollution and related health issues, environmental degradation (urban sprawl, etc)]. Considering this, if any bicycle-related fees are implemented they should be far less than those associated with autos.

    - Since individuals who bike as their only means of transportation are a minute fraction of the population, it might not be worth it for the gov. to implement fees/taxes. Again, I don't know for sure, but it might actually cost more to pay people to collect and enforce the fees than the actual revenue they generate.

    - Even though I don't own a car, I do pay federal income tax. Some of this money is used for road construction (collected by the feds, then sent back to the states). So in some ways, I do contribute something to road construction (though the amount is minimal in my case).

    Again, I'm not sure where I stand on this issue. This has probably been brought up before, but I couldn't find any recent threads. I just thought it might be an interesting discussion. I suppose in principle we bike-only people should pay something since we use the roads, though the revenue collected would be so minimal (again, if the fees are fair considering the minimal public cost associated with bikes) it might not be practical. What do you think?

  2. #2
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    what about people who take buses or other forms of public transportation? They might not own a car and in just about every case in the country, public transit is HEAVILY subsidized by other tax payers. If we want parity for taking cars off the road, I would happily agree to have the government subsidized my bike rides in the same manner we subsidize public transportation.

    In seattle, the sounder train riders are subsidized somewhere between $50-150 each one way trip (depending on what numbers you use). King County just levied a tax for a new passenger only ferry that probably 99% of the county will never use. Single home owners (and renters) pay property taxes to support local schools even though they don't have kids that use the schools.

    Getting people to pay to bike doesn't actually solve anything. Whenever someone brings up the BS argument mentioned above, I remind them that if I wasn't biking, I would be just another single driver in a clar making their commute that much more congested and annoying.

  3. #3
    Instigator at best kjohnnytarr's Avatar
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    Maybe we should start licensing bicyclists, and taxing the license? I don't know...I wouldn't like that, but it is a possible solution.
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    This always seems to keep popping back up.

    The following statements may not be true everywhere, but they are true in most of the U.S.

    Licensing fees only pay to keep the DMV functional, not to build or repair roads.

    Very little of gasoline taxes have typically gone to anything other than Interstate building and repair. Locally the amount going elsewhere has diminished rapidly. I suspect this is true elsewhere. Of course, bicycles aren't allowed to use Interstates in most areas of the U.S.

    There are very few locations where one directly pays for parking. The cost of parking is usually calculated into the cost of goods or services at the location where one parks. If anything, cyclists should receive a discount at these locations since they did not consume an entire parking space.

    The vast majority of road construction and repair is funded by property taxes. These days businesses are negotiating for, and receiving, large breaks and/or exemptions on property taxes. This means that, for the most part, homeowners and renters are paying the lions share of road construction and repair. Homeowners pay directly. Renters pay their landlords who then use a portion of those funds for their property taxes.

    Therefore the person who drives is actually already getting a better deal than the cyclist. They pay no more for the maintenance and construction of the roads, yet they do the most damage to the roads.

    But hey, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
    Last edited by AverageCommuter; 11-30-07 at 11:46 PM.

  5. #5
    Crankenstein bmclaughlin807's Avatar
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    My understanding is that the majority of funds for building/maintaining roads comes from various general funds... paid into by property, sales, and income taxes....

    You could also figure in the health costs... bicyclists tend to be a lot more healthy than couch potatoes... therefore we're less of a drain on health care systems. Just think about the costs of the so-called 'Obesity Epidemic'!

    And then there's all the government money that goes into subsidizing gasoline... including sending the military to try to stabilize oil producing regions... Not to mention helping to reduce demand, thereby lowering prices

    So... we pay more than our fair share for road maintenance, we keep gas prices down, AND we help keep health care costs down...

    I think they should pay US to ride our bikes!
    "There is no greater wonder than the way the face and character of a woman fit so perfectly in a man's mind, and stay there, and he could never tell you why. It just seems it was the thing he most wanted." Robert Louis Stevenson

  6. #6
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    An old chestnut, but one not discussed for a while so here goes.

    Firstly, it's not ecomonically practical. At least three Australian states and several US states have looked into this, and found that the cost of administering the system is higher than any revenue it could reasonably be expected to generate. Given the relatively low popularity of cycling, charging a registration fee on cyclists simply wouldn't generate the funds to cover the costs involved. Contrary to popular belief, this is the first thing politicians look at when deciding whether or not to implement a new tax (which is effectively all this would be). If cycling were to magically become more popular, it might be a possibility, but until then, it isn't going to happen.

    Secondly, cyclists already to contribute to the upkeep of the roads through the taxes they pay that already go into the pool of general revenue -- the same place that fuel taxes and registration fees go. What the funds are then used for is decided by the government of the day, usually on the basis of where they feel the need to buy a few votes. Some of it goes to roads, and some to other things. The point is, considering the relatively miniscule portion of the roadway that cyclists use, it's fair to say that the cyclist has already paid for their share of the road regardless.

    Finally, what exactly would you hope to achieve by suggesting that the cyclist should pay a fee? Paying an additional fee won't actually improve anything at all for cyclists (especially a fee that would be drowned in adminstrative costs). Motorists will still treat cyclists like crap, the police will still refuse to investigate cyclists' complaints, bikepaths will still be useless, and your coworkers will still find plenty of "reasons" to want cyclists off the road. You're far better off just to let them get their little bit of whining off their chest, and get on with your life.
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  7. #7
    Conservative Hippie
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    We pay our fair share, plus some. Most of the money for road building and repair comes from the general fund, and we all pay into that. A percentage of sales taxes in some areas also goes to roads. It does in this county.

    Considering that we cause no road wear, and we cause no air, water, nor noise pollution. In the interest of fairness, we should be getting a tax break for riding and employers who encourage getting to and from work other than by privately owned motor vehicle should get a tax credit.

  8. #8
    www.chipsea.blogspot.com ChipSeal's Avatar
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    Let's do a little Googleing and see what turns up, shall we?

    TABLE 2-1 Highway Spending by Level of Government and Function, 2004 (Percent Distribution)

    Federal, state, local, total
    ---1 ---37 ---13 ---52, Capital outlay
    ---0 ---11 ---16 ---27, Maintenance and traffic services
    ---2 ---12 ----8 ---22, Admin, research, and police
    ---3 ---60 ---37 --100, Total



    "Governments spent $136.4 billion to construct and operate highways in the United States in 2004. Highways are predominantly an activity of state governments: 60 percent of all spending and 72 percent of all capital spending are by the states. Highways accounted for 9 percent of state and 4 percent of local general government direct expenditures in 2003."

    TABLE 2-2 Highway User Revenues by Level of Government and Source, 2004 (Percent Distribution)

    Federal, State, Local, Total
    ---31 ---32 ----1 ---64, Fuel taxes
    ----0 ----6 ----2 ----8, Tolls
    ----3 ---24 ----1 ---28, Other user taxes and fees
    ---34 ---63 ----4 --100, Total

    "State and local governments legally dedicate the revenues from particular taxes in addition to highway user fees to pay for transportation programs. Such taxes are most commonly local property taxes and state and local sales taxes. Revenue from taxes dedicated by law to highway use, other than highway user fees, was $15.4 billion in 2004, 11 percent of all highway spending. This ratio has been nearly constant over the past 40 years, although the portion derived from taxes other than property taxes, including dedicated state sales taxes, has been growing."

    "State and local governments appropriate funds from general revenues each year for spending on roads. Many jurisdictions deposit some part of their highway user revenue into their general funds and then make appropriations for highways out of general funds. Also, the federal government distributes about $1 billion per year from general fund appropriations to state and local governments for highway purposes. Highway user fee revenue equaled 78 percent of highway spending in 2004, and revenue from dedicated taxes other than user fees equaled 11 percent, so the net contribution from general revenue may be defined as the remaining 11 percent."


    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?re...=11568&page=24

    All of that is national figures, of course, I have not yet found funding sources for individual state highway spending.

    So it looks like a car free resident is providing about 22 percent of highway funding. Note this comment from the study cited above:


    "State and federal tax and fee schedules discriminate between light and heavy vehicles in an effort to collect revenues from different kinds of vehicles proportionate to relative responsibilities for highway costs.
    States also impose higher fees on trucks, and a few states charge trucks a tax based on mileage. Large trucks pay higher average fuel tax per mile than light vehicles because they have lower fuel efficiency. The average total user fee per mile paid to all levels of government is six times higher for a combination truck than for an automobile. Combination vehicles, which account for 5 percent of all vehicle miles, pay 19 percent of all user fees in the USDOT estimates."

    Accordingly, due to the vanishingly small impact bicycle use has on the public road, we are more than pulling our share of the cost.
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  9. #9
    Third World Layabout crtreedude's Avatar
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    Another factor is that the tax code is used to either encourage or discourage behavior. Therefore, since it would be very expensive to add more infrastructure in many areas, a tax CREDIT may well be in order. And, given the above, very reasonable.

  10. #10
    I'm made of earth! becnal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kjohnnytarr View Post
    Maybe we should start licensing bicyclists, and taxing the license? I don't know...I wouldn't like that, but it is a possible solution.
    They do that in Switzerland.
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  11. #11
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    Bicyclists subsidize the damage to the roads caused by cars, which is minor. Car drivers and bicyclists subsidize the damage to roads caused by freight (tractor trailers, local delivery trucks etc). That is the major source of road damage in most areas of the USA.

    All road users subsidize the damage caused by weather. If your area historically has had a deep freeze in the winter, the roads took less damage from weather. If your area never freezes, the roads take less damage. If there's a cycle of freeze then thaw multiple times over the course of the winter, there will be severe road damage from the weather. Often, the weather in that case can cause more damage than any vehicle. Building to a standard that can handle a freeze/thaw cycle is... expensive.

    Licensing bicyclists sets up the wrong incentive structure. There are incentives that make sense for reducing road maintenance costs, and it's better to use them. Weight limits on vehicles are good. Emissions limits are good (on the grounds that even if you believe climate change is a myth, it's still better to stress the system as little as possible).

  12. #12
    Senior Member slowjoe66's Avatar
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    My personal opinion on this issue is to let it go. Who gives a big fat rip? The government gets billions and billions of tax dollars annually and a huge portion of that just dissipates through fraud, waste and abuse. They are quick to tell you how everybody must pay their fair share, and they then quickly and inefficiently begin income redistribution by taking from one person and giving to someone else through a myriad of government programs. Don't lose a seconds sleep over this issue. It is so big and and has so many rabbit trails. Ride your bike and have fun. I am sure if you have a job or a business, if you buy food and entertainment, and especially if you have kids, you are paying more than your fair share.
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  13. #13
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    Like my fellow Texan up above ChipSeal stated, we already pay taxes for roads before we even factor in fuel taxes. I know that in Texas your vehicle registration is based on weight, so light cars pay less than full size trucks/suvs, and full size rigs pay more than those two other groups, etc... However, many trucking firms and bus companies may register their trucks/buses in one state and use them in other states (thus they don't pay registration fees in those states). So for an area like Houston where we have trucks from all over the country we take more abuse on our roads then lets say North Dakota. I figured I'd just toss that into this discussion to show how lopsided registrations can be.

    I do not feel that as a cyclist I or anyone else should have to pay any more additional taxes. I agree that our impact on the roads is very little (unless a civil engineer can prove us otherwise). I also think it is very ignorant to say that cyclist do not belong on the road, we all pay the taxes that build roads, we should all be entitled to use the roads as we please so be it in a legal manor.

    Cycling is growing in popularity, it is just going to take more time and more cyclist getting involved in how their tax dollars are spent. Remember, it is YOUR money too!

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  14. #14
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    We subsidize the cost of gasoline (infrastructure/military) so we should fix that first before getting side tracked.

    Otherwise, it is a little premature to consider a bicycle usage tax. Maybe if it was part of a comprehensive plan that offered bikers safer transportation options than sharing the road with cars does. But still I can't see getting down on some poor schmo who is lucky enough just to have a bike.

  15. #15
    put our Heads Together cerewa's Avatar
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    I'm curious, am I the only one that A)saw this thread on the list right next to the the "how to discourage car ownership" thread and B) found that rather ironic?

    Besides not subsidizing cars (and I take that to include allowing car users to take clean air and replace it with dirty air) a great way to encourage people to give up cars would be to leave bicycles free from the hassle of registration and insurance obligations, which would be of little value to society especially considering they would cost cyclists money.

    A tax (and a registration-fee requirement is a tax) is a terrible idea if 100% of the revenue is required to collect the tax.
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    Sales taxes pay for much of the road ifrastruture where I live. I will assume its the same there as well.

  17. #17
    Dubito ergo sum. patc's Avatar
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    I pay exactly the same for my roads as do car owners. EVERY ROAD* within an Ontario municipality is paid for by the city, through municipal taxes. No $ given to the province (license, registration, etc.) goes to municipal road maintenance, and the province only occasionally gives funds for new construction projects. So I tell the car owners to just shut up on this one!

    (* Well, almost. A few 400-series provincial highways cut through cities, like the Queensway/417 in Ottawa, but since bikes are banned from these 60km/hour minimum freeways I don't count them).

  18. #18
    not a role model JeffS's Avatar
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    As others have mentioned, I pay more than my fair share of road costs, both directly through general fund taxes, and indirectly through my purchases which go to support businesses who pay fuel, and use taxes.

    That said, people who bring up bicycles not paying taxes don't actually care about the taxes at all - they simply do not want bicycles on the roads period. If we were taxes, licensed, or whatever, they would still still have a problem with bicycles being on "their" roads.

    I would not even argue this point with someone, instead calling them on their true complaint.

  19. #19
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    I'd rather have trails than paved roads, I suggest motorists pay a tax to me in exchange for having to look at their hideous pavement everywhere.

  20. #20
    www.chipsea.blogspot.com ChipSeal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanK View Post
    - Since individuals who bike as their only means of transportation are a minute fraction of the population, it might not be worth it for the gov. to implement fees/taxes. Again, I don't know for sure, but it might actually cost more to pay people to collect and enforce the fees than the actual revenue they generate.
    This is also a good point. How could you license only those who are car free? Would you license bicycles? Or license cyclists? Or both?

    Would there be an age limit?

    If the purpose would be to raise funds for road construction/maintenance (Without which bicycle use on PUBLIC roads is illegitimate? Ha!) the levy for a license would have to be steep enough overcome the costs of administering the scheme. Long before that threshold were reached it would be a barrier to cycling. It is difficult enough for parents to fund bicycle purchases without adding more burdens. If the fees substantially reduced cycling, then it would be even less likely to actually raise revenue for the intended purpose.

    Public works is the most fundamental duty of our governments. I was shocked to hear how little is spent on roads in the above cited study. 9% of state spending and 4% of local spending went to roads? $136 billion for roads, while we spend more than $500 billion on K-12 education? Perhaps the user fees are a tad low- I know my bicycle isn't causing potholes!
    Vehicular cycling techniques have not been tried and found difficult. They have been presumed difficult and not tried.

  21. #21
    Senior Member maddyfish's Avatar
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    Even in Ky. where we pay taxes every year on our cars, not just a registration fee, a tax every year, the roads are paid for out of the general fund.
    My wife's Explorer costs about $350 a year to register.

    So basically if a person thinks car fees, and gas taxes pay for the roads, they are an idiot. They would need to be increased 10,000 fold to begin to cover the cost.
    Not too much to say here

  22. #22
    Senior Member AlanK's Avatar
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    Great discussion, many good points. As I suspected in the US bike fees simply wouldn't be practical because there aren't enough of us (and we contribute to transportation funds through other taxes). I do think many of my coworkers are just unhappy to share the road w/bikes and want them off the streets, period. That's probably what a it boils down to.


    The point about Switzerland licensing bikes is interesting. I would guess many countries where bikes are prevalent probably have some sort of fee/registration system. I wonder if bikes are registered in Holland, where bicycling is the most popular form of personal transportation? I've done some cursory on-line research and can't find the answer.
    Last edited by AlanK; 12-01-07 at 02:37 PM.

  23. #23
    Dubito ergo sum. patc's Avatar
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    Getting back to the OP's subject. I don't think gov'ts are in the business of being "fair". Governments exist to provide services, set policy, and manage certain public assets. As such fairness should not enter into the question of bike licenses or fees.

  24. #24
    Instigator at best kjohnnytarr's Avatar
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    If you tax cyclists, why not tax people who walk too?! They use the streets!
    Quote Originally Posted by JoshFrank View Post
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    Short and sweet: Most studies put the 'true cost' of gasoline at $6.00 to $15.00 per gallon. Tell your co-worker that you will be happy to pay your share when he / she pays theirs.

    Driving is very heavily subsidized in the U.S. It's kind of a sad that people are so ignorant about that. The wide range (of the true cost calculation) is due to a range of assumptions on the cost of parking, environmental damage, human health damage, and war. The roadwork subsidies mentioned above are pretty black and white.

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