“There’s no way we could have put in the facilities we’ve put in in the last 20 years without the bike tax.”
— A Colorado Springs city planner as told to the Gazette newspaper
In light of the bike excise tax idea that is being mulled about here in Oregon, I thought I’d share a story I came across several months ago (thanks to the excellent blog, Cyclelicious) about a bike tax in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
According to an article in the Colorado Springs Gazette published in August, the city has had a bike excise tax in place since 1988. In the past 20 years the tax has generated about $2 million in revenue and, more importantly, the article reports that:
City officials have used money from the tax to get hundreds of thousands in matching grants from the federal government.
The $4 per bike tax applies to new bicycles with wheels of over 14-inches.
What has the tax meant to the city? Colorado Springs city planner Craig Blewitt told the Gazette that, “There’s no way we could have put in the facilities we’ve put in in the last 20 years without the bike tax.”
According to the article, the tax passed without much uproar and the city helped paved the way by working with retailers before it came up for a vote. Bike shops also kept quiet after they began seeing new trail projects built with the money. The Gazette reports:
From a business point of view as well as one of enriching the community, …bicycle shop owners got behind the tax.
The article also mentions that Colorado Springs is the only city in the country with such a tax. Read the entire article (it’s quite interesting) in the Colorado Springs Gazette.
[Thanks to Cyclelicious for bringing this information to my attention.]
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I am all for this. I would love to shut up the people who say bicycles don’t pay anything for improvements. Heck, I would even support a bike license if it would help.
I’m all for a small bicycle tax like this, as long as there is some regulation for where the money from it is spent – as I’d like it to go towards bicycle infrastructure and education. I think it would help give a sense of validity to people who feel like cyclists aren’t paying for the infrastructure changes being made (I still don’t agree with them, however) – but at something like $4-5 per bike, it’s hardly something to complain about. I’d be excited to see that revenue channeled into making roads safer and more convenient.
And now Colorado Springs has world-class biking infrastructure?
And is one of the best places in the country to ride a bike?
And has a high rate of commuting because the streets are safer for bicyclists?
Or is just a more expensive place to buy a bike and is still pretty much just like riding everywhere else?
1. Colorado Springs is not a border town. People there are not going to drive to New Mexico to avoid the tax.
2. A Statewide law is different than a city law. Is a bicycle store in Baker City going to get benefits from the program? Silverton? Grants Pass? A city tax can apply the benefits directly but a state tax may cause inequities.
#4 “Or is just a more expensive place to buy a bike and is still pretty much just like riding everywhere else?”
Somehow I doubt people really notice the 4 dollars charged only on new bike. If you are that concerned about cost you are going to buy used anyway. No one is driving to the next town to save the 4 dollars…
Thanks, Jonathan. I had asked for some reference to such an implementation in commenting on the other bike tax article/thread.
I guess I had not considered “matching funds” when I commented there, so I suppose such a tax here could also generate some useful amounts. But for Portland and its relationship with bikes, which appears more mainstream than Colorado Springs – more culturally integral and transportationally functional, rather than recreational – such an excise tax could be seen as insultingly diminutive. Portland seems more about bikes as transportation compared to how the Colorado Springs Gazette article portrayed the history of their tax and its effects.
Most of the country still thinks of bikes as toys (Chicagoland, recently NYC and such, being some exceptions), like nominal health or tourist or recreation options to be funded if the money is available from somewhere else (Feds). Portland already loves the bike – even with the majority non-cyclists who have a right to not ride (what else they do instead is a different issue), and both PDOT and ODOT are more intelligent about bike use as part of the transportation mix than most such organizations.
Everybody (who counts in deciding these things) already knows that SUVs thrash the road & waste resources (particularly SOVs), but have we seen any legislation implementing a special excise tax on SUVs concomitant with their increased impact on road wear, collision injury, or fuel consumption? Hell, no. Why? Their drivers would be loudly squealing in protest in a fat-clogged heartbeat!
Why then, tax cyclists in the country’s foremost cycling city when they are clearly a part of safer, more effective transportation in a dynamic model watched the world over?
Hey! No one’s brought up Amsterdam or some other Euro-superior place yet – do they have excise tax on their bike sales?
As always, thanks for the blog, J.
Wait…. over 20 YEARS, they’ve only raised $2 million?? And that, along with the thousands of dollars in matching (or not, matching would be $2million… but I digress) federal grants, has created better and more infrastructure for cycling?
That math doesn’t add up, unless cycling infrastructure really does cost a fraction there that it does here.
I agree with Dave #2 completely. I’d also add that such a tax, while small, feels unfair. It reminds me of the “NW Forest Pass” where I pay my Oregon & Federal tax yet I’m hit again to be outside amongst the trees. While I feel OK paying it because I assume the money goes to support trail projects, salaries, etc. I wonder why this isn’t already covered by my other taxes.
Aren’t open spaces, city streets and parks all part of the public domain? Why are we considering special fees & taxes? I also wonder if those who (incorrectly) argue that we don’t pay our share will find the one-time $4 in comparison to annual auto fees a way to bolster their point of view. It’d be proof that we *should* pay but now we’re not paying enough. I don’t like it.
All of that aside, for me, world class cycling infrastructure is probably the most important change I’d like to see in this city. If I could jump on a bike and roll along Amsterdam grade greenways, slow streets and safe and convenient arterial crossings, I’d be willing to pay *thousands* for that.
“No one is driving to the next town to save the 4 dollars…”
Regardless of whether people avoid the tax, the comment doesn’t address the fundamental issue: Are people getting something worthwhile for their more expensive bikes?
I don’t recall hearing about how great a place Colorado Springs is to ride…
Something to keep in mind in this discussion of a local v. state tax is that Portland is but a part of much larger metro area. I live in Tigard, bike to work in Portland, bought my bike in L.O. from the Bike Gallery there but could easily have bought it Downtown or at the Beaverton location. I like the idea of a state-wide tax and area-wide infrastructure planning.
For me this isn’t so much about “paying my own way” as it is about figuring out a way to get more money restricted for use ONLY on bike projects and not subject to the legislatures whims.
Yeah, while I am impressed at the bike community’s responsible willingness to take on this tax, I think it only makes sense in concert with a shoe tax to pay for sidewalks, and a kayak/canoe tax to keep the Willamette clean.
If we DO go for a tax, it should be spent on bike-only or bike-preferenced facilities, rather than bike lanes or other mixed-mode safety measures, which should be funded by those that cause the safety issue.
Hawaii has used their ‘bike license’ fee to fund an effective bike education program in Honolulu for fourth graders and for matching grants too – back before ‘Ice Tea’. It used to be bi-annual but then changed to lifetime – to make it easier to manage by local bike shops (selling the tags).
All my Hawaii bikes have fee tags. And my Madison WI bike has a ‘license’ showing I paid into their fund too.
So it can be a useful financial tool – depending on the net amount of fees collected and the objective of the funding.
It could also be a City only fee collected for city proejcts. This might be politically more viable.
Can we also have a bicycle infrastructure bake sale?
I’ll gladly pay a small tax on a bike if we can tax other items that are injurious to our roads. There also needs to be assurances that it is direct to bike projects. I fear the issue of replacement income. If this tax raises $500,000 will we lose $500,000 of general money? More then likely, what are the protections?
Some things that ought to be taxed:
Studded tires: +10%, they are banned in many states including Minnesota where I grew up. Learn to drive in the snow and put on chains when you really must.
SUVs/Trucks: Heavy vehicles abuse roads. 10% tax.
Gas: Compared to most of Europe our gas taxes are very low, the cost of gas doesn’t internalize the environmental damage caused.
I want to see project specifics before making a judgement, but I remain skeptical.
That’s what I’m talking about. Must connect fee to intensity of use.
I can understand this idea to a general road/commuter bike. But what about the guys/gals who ride trails well outside of the city? Why should their bikes be subject to the tax? How are you going to regulate that part? Mountain Bikes vs. Road Bikes vs. Track Bikes vs. commuter bikes? $4 isnt a lot of money but if your going to be taxed, I’d be pissed if I was taxed on something I didnt use..
Dont get me wrong, I ride all over this city, but I have a bunch of friends that ride mountain bikes off road only. Just throwing a different side of the equation out there..
I was just in Colorado Springs last month, and spent the whole week cycling all over town with my dad. While most of the time my mind was on how great it was to be riding bikes with the old guy, the rest of the time it was on how amazing their network of bike trails is. In Colorado Springs there are places where you ride on the road, with a bike path, but more often there is another way of getting where you want to go which involves being on a paved trail away from traffic for much of your ride. It is incredibly convenient, and gives one a fantastic feeling of safety. I don’t mind riding in traffic, as here I do it every day, but it sure is nice being able to get away from traffic while still getting where you need to go. Visit Colorado Springs. You might just see something there you like.
I have no objection to paying a wide variety of taxes. My objection is the car-headed nature of the argument for this tax.
Roads existed for thousands of years before cars. It is only recently that we started modifying roads for cars, those modifications should include provisions for self-propelled transport as part of car-infrastructure. Not as some add-on or special feature. It is like going to a restaurant and being charged for the fork.
A separated bike path is every bit as much a road, as a road that has been modified for motor vehicles. It is a public right-of-way designed to convey people and goods for the benefit of the community. Roads should come out of a single pool of money, and the accommodations for adequate self-propelled transit should be part of any road project dollar.
Just because a tax is relatively painless, does not meant it is appropriate to collect.
If I start paying a tax, does the city get to decide whether or not to build a lame bridge over NW Flanders with that money?
I can see the funds being sorely misdirected to projects which do not benefit everyone…
I think that METRO and the BTA kinda flubbed the introduction of this tax idea. I didn’t see, perhaps I didn’t look, for their reason for supporting the idea of a tax. From the first post on this, it seemed just to be a “shut the cagers up” concept, which is a horrible reason.
Don’t get me wrong, matching federal funds, I’m all for that. It seems that the tax needs to be accountable to the taxed. Before I’d be comfortable with it, I want to know what bike specific projects this will be used for.
Portland, Eugene, Corvallis and Bend might benefit from such a scheme, but I highly doubt the people in other parts of the state will. The small numbers of bicycles sold in other parts of the state would not make a meaningful financial contribution toward improved bicycle facilities. Even if they were directed back to the proper local governments, my experience in Baker City and Ontario tells me that in most cities, the local government could care less about any mode other than cars.
I would only support this sort of legislation if I thought that motor vehicles contributed equitably toward their costs on society. So I guess I won’t support it.
Well said! This bears repeating:
The proposed amount of money to be taxed is trivial, but I feel like the act of imposing this tax (and us accepting it) brings with it certain hazards. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it seems like cyclists paying such a tax is tantamount to us saying we don’t think we’ve been paying our way. Have we not?
Some here are saying we do pay our way, but this tax would be a handy way to shut up those who say we don’t. Wouldn’t it be better to convince them based on the facts as they stand? And do you really think $4 per bike is going to shut them up?
velo in #14 says:
Good point. Does enacting this tax take away from other funding?
Also, does enacting (and accepting) this tax in this form make it seem as if this is the way bike infrastructure *should* be funded? Does doing so diminish the argument that bike-friendly infrastructure should be part of a community-wide solution (and budget)?
Again, I like what Coyote has to say, particularly about right-of-way.
Maybe what’s needed is an effort to point out that public right-of-way is not solely there for the benefit of cars, and that car-free infrastructure is every bit as valid as car-centric infrastructure.
Furthermore, it’s probably (always) worth pointing out the ways in which even cyclists who never buy gas are still paying for infrastructure; that it’s actually a good thing to not be buying and using gas; and that the negative impact bikes have on roads – and on the community as a whole – when compared to that of cars is trivial. Cycling’s impact might even be a net positive.
So why should we feel obligated to pay a special tax?
There has never been and never will be a program or a project which benefits everyone.
We all pay taxes or fees into things we don’t use.
This is not limited to government, either.
Colorado Springs did not have the density an population of Portland Metro, either. Separate bike paths require real-estate and right-of-way which we have less of or is more expensive here in PDX.
I looked around on Colorado Springs home page, the Colorado Springs Cycling Clubs site, to try get a sense what that cities needs and priorities for bike inclusive road infrastructure might be.
Kind of hard to tell. Big city; 360,000 pop. . The city has awareness of the importance of bikes as alternative transportation too; yearly ‘bike month’, to encourage riding. Also, all the transit has bike racks.
Despite that, I haven’t seen enough to be able to tell how much concern exists in that city for developing infrastructure that supports bikes as commuter vehicles. Contrast that with the situation here in Portland, where the concern for that kind of infrastructure is strong.
I’d want to know more about how well Colorado Springs excise tax has been able to fund the development of serious bike inclusive commute infrastructure before seriously considering it as an idea for Portland or the Metro area.
I really hate this debate mostly because I feel compelled to be a part of it.
I am in the Springs once or twice a year because my family lives there…So the
Springs versus Portland…
1) Cost of Infrastructure:
The Springs is a sprawling community I have watched it grow by spreading out over time. The cost of creating new trails there is minimal since it is generally in areas of new development.
The cost of creating effective bike infrastructure in an established higher density city like ours that is divided by a river is very different experience.
2) Tax Collection Administration:
Colorado has a sales tax. The administrative process for collecting the excise tax as at the point of sale did not have to be created as a result of this tax; it was already in place.
3) Level of Commitment:
The Springs has collected $2 million collected over 20-years and this has been matched by “hundreds of thousands.”
I am guessing this could mean that the total revenue commitment has been up to $2.9 million over the past two decades?
If this represents the Springs commitment to bike infrastructure, the development cost has been very low and/or their overall commitment hasn’t been very strong.
It the past twenty years, PDOT has invested $55 million in bike infrastructure – or about 14 times more per capita than the Springs.
Won’t $1.5 million in additional funding statewide be nice?
Sure, if you assume that $1.5 million statewide annual excise tax collection will result in a dollar for dollar or increase in bike infrastructure spending. But I doubt that will happen.
We have a huge transportation maintenance backlog in this city, region and state. It is more likely that the $1.5 million would replace existing commitments of local and state funding so that “freed-up” revenue could be spent on other transportation needs.
What about Federal Matching Funds?
The availability and eligibility of matching funds is determined by federal policy, not state tax policy. Further, these “matches” can generally be made with any local revenue source.
I am not aware of any federal grants for bike improvements that require a match from a “bike tax.”
More “matching funds” for bike will only result from 1) more federal funds being available and/or 2) a greater local match.
As I noted above, I imagine this bike tax will mostly replace – not enhance – local spending commitments to bike infrastructure, the net impact of this meager new revenue source will be a meager increase in spending.
What should we do?
We should not waste our breath and political capital on implementing a new tax structure to generate a tiny revenue stream.
This “painless” tax will be a pain in the ass for retailers, create a new bureaucracy, and produce nearly nothing in return.
Yes, I sound like a Republican so now it is time for my true tax and spend colors to shine…
I am not opposed to bike registration or licensing or whatever as long as three things happen
1) Equity issues are effectively addressed (i.e. make it progressive);
2) The funding source is constitutionally earmarked only for bike infrastructure;
3) The revenue stream is significant enough to actually DO something even when matching funds are not available.
In other words, if you want to tax me to pay for bike infrastructure, drop the painless nonsense and make it count.
How about a plan that pumps $15 million per year into bike infrastructure? THAT would be something worth arguing over.
Only if all the car infrastructure is
paid for by the new motor vehicle excise tax.
…but cars…careless drivers…people who drive and smoke and have cell phones…studded tires…immigrants, homeless, and poor people…
Actually, thank you for the well reasoned post devoid of flaming and pointless political drivel.
There’s something really really creepy about a bike tax to match the feds. C-Springs is about as bike-friendly as Tulsa, Oklahoma.
But, then again, sticking a luxury tax, just laughs and grins, on the spandex-clad ‘mo’s sporting the high-dolla carbon fiber rides might not be all dat bad after all.
I don’t like that the proposal is for an excise tax at the time of sale. I bought my bike this July, and I’m not likely to purchase another for quite some time. Yet I would take advantage of new infrastructure. How would I be contributing?
I would prefer a bike registration system, locally administered (Metro seems logical as the administering body). Say, $5 or $10 every two years. This would involve all local bikes (probably need an exception for kids), and would generate more revenue for infrastructure investment.
If we want more infrastructure, we should be willing to pay for it. Being a part of society provides benefits to individuals, it also requires responsibility.
Another thing about matching funds…
Presuming that we did put in the tax, and we did get matching funds, wouldn’t the cagers still claim that were taking money from them? The argument doesn’t hold up.
RyNO Dan #27 – Brilliant!
Graham #22 – It would have been better said with out the typo 😛 Never could proofread my own writhing (sic).
Colorado has a sales tax. The administrative process for collecting the excise tax as at the point of sale did not have to be created as a result of this tax; it was already in place.
Excellent point, Mr. Fuentes. Before you solicit my support for such a tax, I want to know how much it will cost Oregon to set up and maintain a system for collecting the tax at the point of sale. I’m really not interested in contributing to a job creation program for State of Oregon employees, thank you very much.
So what improvements does a bike tax help create? Bike lanes, traffic calming, improved transit. EVERYBODY benefits from this. Having a bike lane run down my street, or being near a bike path that would give me access to the next town; that would make my location a more desirable place to live. That means my house is worth more money.
Should those who purchase bikes fund the increase in property equity for the rest of the local community?
There is a small street named Orben place in San Francisco, Ca. It dates back into the days before the horseless carriages. So it’s a narrow street. Too narrow to allow cars. Everybody wants to live there because it has NO CAR TRAFFIC, or the concomitant noise, danger, and pollutants. Walk down the street; it’s like walking thru the park. If you are lucky, you can buy a tiny condo there for about ONE MILLION dollars.
The idea of taxing a social good is somehow perverse to me. Sure there are the fishing and hunting examples, but those revenues are decling as the numbers decline. To me bikes should be subsidized, they do this in BC where you are exempt from the sales tax if you buy one.
Also why should BTA have exclusive rights to the tax? If I’m a member of PUMP or a mountain biker I’d much rather have the tax on my new mountain bike go towards opening and maintaining single track in Forest Park. If I’m a road rider or cyclocross rider, I’m sure there are ways I want the tax revenue from those rides as well. Where does it end, in saying one group is more deserving of this revenue than another?
I want a shoe tax. I am tired of subsidizing walkers. They just walk all around like the own the place. I see someone J-walk every day on my ride to work. Not to mention the kids with the wheels on their shoes rolling around the schools and malls. We need a shoe tax and a police crack down!
Speaking of shuttin people up. I saw Larz Larson at Mount Hood Meadows 7 years ago. He was doing a show from the brown bag area. Noone even noticed he was there. The place was empty. It was just me and him. I often reflect back on that time as my “if you had the chance, when Hitler was a kid moment.”
btw nothing will ever shut him up, except to stop listening.
While we are at it, why don’t we tax everything that may use all this newly funded infrastructure. New shoes of all the walkers and runners, anything with wheels: strollers, trailers, skooters, skateboards, rollerblades, Segways, wheelchairs.
Equal Taxes for Equal Access.
Get my drift?
Don’t plan on any new bike stuff from a bike tax. That’s not how Portland gvt. works. They will take that money and spend it on something entirely unrelated. It may work well in other cities but we have a whole different set of priorities here.
The fact is that the government gives subsidies to hybrids and other cleaner forms of transportation.. Why would they start charging fees for people who use one of the cleanest and most efficient forms of transportation possible? I believe the cost of implementing the system would negate the benefits.. I’d be interested in seeing exactly how much the state belies they could collect and how much it would cost to collect.
Usually, if you want to encourage the purchase and use of an item, you provide a tax break or a cost subsidy of some sort. This is called an incentive. For example, we can deduct a large portion of the purchase of a new gas guzzler from our income taxes.
If you want to discourage an item’s purchase and use, you can increase taxes on it or prop up the cost of that item. For example, we can elect to pay more for renewable energy on our PGE bill.
In light of the above, a new bicycle tax makes perfect sense to me.
re: setting up a new tax collection structure (Tony #26 and Donna #33) –
i seem to remember the Oregon legislature considering a bike registration fee of about 15 bucks or so back in the late 80’s – it had a fair amount of support until some analysis revealed that the cost of administering such a fee would handily exceed the expected revenue generated.
And that was the end of that.
Ah, ya all are just “redistributers” 😉
@37 & 36 et al. The New York Times reported in 1898 that League of American Wheelmen president Isaac B. Potter critised a bike tax and “considered it just as sensible as to tax boots and shoes for wearing the sidewalks, and he called it a tax on the only kind of vehicle that does no injury whatever to the roads.”
Potter of course was right, as are people today who argue for bicycles as part of a public good. But bicyclists’ exceptionalism then, as today, threatens I believe our ability to make bicycling “normal” and attractive to large numbers of people. The financial “penalty” of a tax is on the surface a disincentive, but making bicycling a more “serious” transportation option might require bringing it into the fold as a taxable thing/action – “adult,” and therefore taxable.
I would gladly trade a bicycle tax for an increase in the gas tax substantially larger than Governor K’s proposed 2 cents, or a tax on SUVs. There are likely other trade-offs that would make a bicycle tax really attractive.
Interestingly, the province of Ontario has just recently removed the tax on bicycles (under $1,000) and bike helmets they had in place. The provincial government believes giving up the “$25 million a year” (that must have been a hell of a tax) is worth the incentive to get more people riding and out of cars.
And, bike shop owners welcome the tax exemption saying it will be good for business. It kind of offers the exact opposite point of view of Colorado Springs.
If you’re sweatin’ $4, you’ve got bigger problems than a bicycle excise tax!
Oh, Word – what if the cost of collecting the tax exceeds the amount collected? In Oregon, this is quite possible, since we don’t have a sales tax already in place. I may not be sweatin’ $4, but I’d be pretty upset to find out that the entire $4 (and possible more $) is needed to create and operate an infrastructure for collecting said $4.
Jonathan – thank you for this article.
Seeing an excise tax in use with — at least according to one source — happy customers makes me reconsider my position. I’m not convinced, but I might be swayed if we knew how much money came in as a result of this excise tax and what projects they were able to do because of it (that they could not have otherwise accomplished). I’d also want to know that the tax hasn’t caused diversion of funds.
My sentiments sort of follow those of K’Tesh (#20). If this tax is a means to generate matching federal grant money to enable more/better projects, that’s an admirable goal. However, if the tax is intended to silence the “bikes-don’t-pay” crowd, it’s a misguided idea. It has thus far appeared to be none of the former and a lot of the latter, which isn’t likely to generate much support from the bicycling community.
What I’d like to see as a result of a tax like this (if we adopt an excise tax) is some pressure going the opposite direction. I want the BTA to lobby for similar use taxes on other modes of transport — and I don’t mean pedestrians. If bikes are paying a special tax just so they can get some bicycle-specific infrastructure, how about a special tax on cars, heavy vehicles, and studded tires to help offset their unique impacts on mode-specific infrastructure?
And even with everything above, I’d still prefer this be a local tax, not a state-wide tax.
So, this is a tax whose essential purpose will be to shut up Lars Larson and his listeners? That is what I’m hearing out of this–that the tax will have administrative costs, won’t likely generate enough $ to do anything noticeable, and that it is being proposed to shut up people who don’t like cyclists. Brilliant.
Shoe tax??? Everybody walks.
STochelo, I’d pay a lot more than 4 dollars if I could shut up Lars Larson. Do you think it will work?