View Full Version : License and Tax Cyclists?

10-26-2007, 03:39 AM
Some of my family members believe we should license and tax cyclists. I'm sure this is a symptom of listening to Lars Larson, or listening to people who listen to Lars Larson. At the time they shared this opinion with me, the best answer I could come up with was, "that's stupid." So I basically stayed silent instead.

It didn't take me long to think of a better response, such as that since choosing to use a bike rather than a car is a benefit to society rather than a cost to society, if anything we should provide incentives, rather than levy taxes, on bike ridership. Also, since the money our society spends on bike infrastructure is so microscopic compared to what we spend on motor vehicle infrastructure, I should expect that by paying bike taxes, I should have extraordinarily more bike infrastructure all over the transportation system than currently exists. Is that really what my gas-guzzling relatives want?

But I'm wondering if there are more, and more thorough, answers to why a bike tax is, to return to my original argument, stupid. (By the way, does anyone have a statistic on bike infrastructure costs in comparison to overall transportation costs?)

Also, what do you think of the idea of licensing cyclists?

10-26-2007, 08:38 AM
JC, good question to ask --- you've answered a lot of it in your second paragraph. A couple of thoughts on addressing this canard:

- The City of Portland spends less than 2% of their transportation budget on bicycles; other jurisdictions probably less.

- As far as the "cyclists don't pay (road) taxes" arguement, if you own a motor vehicle you pay liscensing & registration fees regardless of how much or how little you drive. For my household, this runs about 20% of the annual tax burden; it would be more if my family drove less. Sure, some cyclists don't have cars --- but can't we all agree that this small subsidy is a good thing, the way mass transit is? Or public libraries?

-Regarding the registration/licensing of cyclists, what problem are we trying to address? Police have no problem writing citations to cyclists now, without licensing, as we've witnessed here in Portland of late. And who are cyclists engdangering, to the degree that we want to regulate them like motor vehicles, more so than guns, or hazardous chemicals? (answer:themselves)
If we want cyclists to be safer --- which is a laudable goal --- do we want to create a large & expensive bureacracy to do so? The Oregon legislature has looked at bike registration in the past & rejected it due to prohibitive cost. If it's really health & safety we're worried about, instead of effectively discouraging cycling, shouldn't we be taxing/regulating the consumption of fast foods & non-nutritious snax? Limiting television viewing? Mandating brisk walks?

10-26-2007, 09:01 AM
With respect, we DO pay taxes. Many of us have cars, and occasionally drive them :-), so there is the gas tax/registration fee right there.

But the more interesting part is how transportation is funded in this country. There was a link, which I cannot find, that showed that gas taxes and registration did not pay a significant percentage of what it takes to keep our traffic infrastructure going. It is mostly paid for by the general fund, which, surprise, comes from income taxes! If automotive traffic wasn't subsidized, gas would probably be $8/gallon.

10-26-2007, 09:15 AM
Once built, I imagine that most bike infrastructure needs very little maintainance since bikes have such low weights compared to cars and trucks. Some road work will need to be done due to climate (road cracking, potholes, paint loss), but overall, the rate will be much less than that of a traffic lane. Everytime they repave a traffic lane, the bike lane is going to get paved too, wether they need it or not.

So now we have the cost of some paint for a line and some bike symbols. It would cost more to develop a licensing system, the cost to stores checking for licensing before purchase, etc, more than they would need to get back.

We should really be taxing pedestrains for those expensive raised sidewalks and dedicated crossing lights! ;)

I've never seen a multiuse path maintained at all in my experience so I hope they could toss in a repaving every 20 years that it seems to average. Even the cost of building a new one shouldn't be totally on the bikes, since pedestrain useage is high. Do we want restricted access turnpike paths or do we occasonally want to buy one out of the general fund where we already pay income taxes into?

10-26-2007, 09:31 AM
We should really be taxing pedestrains for those expensive raised sidewalks and dedicated crossing lights! ;)


I will have to use this one! Excellent point! How about a permit / license and insurance for walking the streets? LOL!

10-26-2007, 10:47 AM
I believe this argument is something cooked up by people who want the car to remain King in this society. (They hope that if biking started to cost something more than just the cost of the bike, fewer people would ride their bikes.)

What I don't get about this argument is it's usually spouted by anti-government wingnuts who would love to pay ZERO taxes and take no responsibility for the collective good if they only COULD.

I guess they only advocate for regulations and taxes when progressive, poor, or otherwise "undesirable" people have to follow or pay them.

10-26-2007, 11:11 AM
Another thing I find funny is that the same people who spout off about the bike tax idea are people who think nothing of leveling huge tax burdens on tobacco to discourage smoking and help pay for some of the damage that smoking does to peoples health. Okay I guess this makes sense.

Then in the next breath they think that instead of raising gas taxes which we basically all pay and lets face facts, every cent paid means more pollution has gone into our air, water, and earth...instead of that they think that the best idea is to tax a group of people who transport themselves while not polluting the environment and not putting any wear and tear on the roadways? Give me a break. People who spout this stuff are people who want to tax anyone but themselves.

I pay more for green generated energy from PGE. This makes sense since it costs more to produce. Unless we are going to tax people who walk and jog as well, it doesn't make sense to single out cyclists for some sort of special tax.

10-26-2007, 06:32 PM
What I tell people is that I'd agree to it if we moved to taxing vehicles on the road by their weight. That would be a fair way to base user fees on the amount of wear and tear a vehicle does to the roads. Let's say $1.00 per pound at the most, $0.25 at the least. When I do that, I notice that people don't ever bring up the subject in my hearing ever again. :)

10-27-2007, 03:53 AM
I like that. At $1/lb of vehicle weight, my bike would be about $4 and my relatives' SUV would be about $4000. Then at $1/lb of CO2 and greenhouse gases, I would be exempt and they would be scewed again. Add in a $500 tax incentive to switch exclusively to biking and mass transit, and I wouldn't complain a bit.

10-27-2007, 09:52 AM
I believe this argument is something cooked up by people who want the car to remain King in this society. (They hope that if biking started to cost something more than just the cost of the bike, fewer people would ride their bikes.)


Tax policy is used to either encourage or discourage certain behavior. We tax cigarettes because we want to decrease demand by increasing cost and internalize some of the externalities of smoking. Specifically, we use tobacco tax money to pay for the health care that smokers need but that neither smokers nor tobacco companies pay for completely.

We tax fuel because we need the users to pay for the damage they cause to the roads.

We tax capital gains income at a lower rate than ordinary income to encourage investment.

We give tax credits for renewable energy development so we can lower pollution and preserve finite resources.

Why would we tax bicyclists? To discourage the behavior. That's exactly opposite to the policy we want. We want cycling to continue to increase because it ameliorates road wear, traffic congestion, environmental degradation, hazardous air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, peak oil, and obesity.

If people want to tax bicycling, they want to make all these social problems worse. That's just bad policy.

Besides, cyclists already pay taxes just like everybody else. I have a car, a house, and a job, so I pay all the same taxes.

Don't punish me for choosing a transportation mode that saves me money, keeps me healthier, and makes the world a better place for you. That's not even in your own interest! How dumb is that?

10-27-2007, 10:15 AM
I like that. At $1/lb of vehicle weight, my bike would be about $4 and my relatives' SUV would be about $4000. Then at $1/lb of CO2 and greenhouse gases, I would be exempt and they would be scewed again. Add in a $500 tax incentive to switch exclusively to biking and mass transit, and I wouldn't complain a bit.
You have a 4 lbs bike? Carbon fiber? Wow.

10-29-2007, 06:52 PM
Haha, typo, sorry. It's supposedly 14lbs without all my mods. Still very light.

ME 2
10-30-2007, 07:51 AM
My 2 cents are:

1) The costs of administrating a licensing system would likely out way the revenues. I can't think of anyone in the Lars listening crowd that would want to establish "another" money losing program run by the government.

2) If they are so concerned about charging drivers for their impact on the road they should start by supporting a tax on installing studded tires. Those things cause several times more economic damage each year than the entire traffic maintenance budget.

10-30-2007, 10:41 AM
Besides that, most cyclists already have licenses. It's called a driver's license.

I already have a license, I carry insurance and pay for insurance and registering my car. I'm not about to say yay for something I'm already paying for.

I would, however, be in support of having to re-take at least the written test to renew my driver's license, and I'd be in support of having to renew every 2 years instead of 8. Especially if there was an ever-evolving test that keeps up with the realities of driving in the state of Oregon.

11-29-2007, 01:41 PM
So fairness dictates that cyclists need to licensed and taxed? Tell your relatives that they need to be careful for what they ask for: Fairness cuts two ways!

If cyclists are taxed, then we need to end the car subsidy of free curbside parking! Why should such large sections of PUBLIC space be set aside for the storage of private motor vehicles. It would be absurd to think I could store my private goods (Like my extra bedroom set, exercises equipment, lawn mower and trunk of extra winter clothes.) in the street at curbside. Car parking is equally absurd if you think about it for any length of time.

That is prime real estate, often obtained through eminent domain for the public good. It should be accessible to ALL road users, not one class of user, the motorist. I don't want my public monies used for this special interest group set aside, and the continuing cost of maintaining it.

That public space should be reclaimed for the smoother flow of traffic for all.


the Wumpus
11-29-2007, 04:02 PM
License fees and registration don't seem to provide much more (maybe less?) revenue than the associated document production, data collection, management, retrieval, and storage infrastructure. That leaves fuel taxes, and since we don't pay gasoline taxes for the distance we ride...

Obviously, this means we need to apply this tax across the board, incrementally. Anyone who doesn't burn an appropriate amount of gasoline is a freeloader to some degree, right? Starting with the low end applied to those econobox driving tax dodgers. Then those nefarious hybrid drivers who barely pay for any roads at all, and legally cruise down the HOV lane in many states with no passengers. But worst of all, those electric car freeloaders freeloading their way around with no DEQ fees, never burning a drop of tax-income-generating road-building gasoline, in fact, taxpayers pay for their fuel at subsidized charging stations alongside EV-only parking spaces in Portland, some of which they don't even have to pay to park in while they guzzle free fuel. And then those darn cyclists, they're just the opposite of that benevolent guy who drives to work every day with the dually crew cab Dodge Ram diesel with the Banks kit that runs 10 second quarter miles and gets worse fuel milage than a triple trailer Freightliner. He's earned the right to park diagonally across four parking spaces. The rest of us could learn a lesson from all the work he's done providing us our lovely roads.

That's my answer when this one comes up.

11-29-2007, 11:23 PM
Does anyone have figures on what portion of transportation dollars come from what sources? Or even just what the various sources are?

11-30-2007, 07:37 PM
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."


All of that is national figures, of course, I have not yet found funding sources for Oregon 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.

11-30-2007, 07:51 PM
There is of coarse the practical application problems.

Are we going to regulate bicycles, or bicycle operators, or both? How is such regulation to be enforced? Who is to administer this program? Will there be age restrictions?What is the purpose of such schemes and will this meet those goals? Has it been done elsewhere and did it work as intended?

12-04-2007, 12:10 PM
The Oregon legislature has looked at bike registration in the past & rejected it due to prohibitive cost.

Most people don't even consider that at $30 per license tab it probably doesn't even cover the cost of processing the paperwork for the tab. So essentially, the state is already subsidizing auto licensing. And I agree with everyone else, we all pay the same income and property taxes. I like the idea of licensing fees based on vehicle weight. That would be much more fair.

Along the same lines of paying based on your impact to the roads, there should be a heavy tax on every studded tire sold to pay for the road damage it causes

12-04-2007, 02:27 PM
I especially like the $500 tax incentive or a per mile credit for documented milege. My solar hot water system ended up costing < 1/2 of the actual cost after rebates and fed/state credits. The 96% efficient gas furnace I'm putting in may be expensive but I'm getting close to $1000 back in rebates and credits. After investment, its all savings.
What's the impetus behind all this? Greenhouse gases. Pollution. Energy conservation. Helllooooo.... What better part of this social formula than to reward those who commute by bike.