Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 2nd, 2009 at 10:33 am
A local web marketing/consulting firm has plastered a MAX train with the question: “Should cyclists pay a road tax?”
The company says they’re doing this campaign to demonstrate how effective they are at analyzing web conversations. They say the question of bike licensing and registration have been hot topics in Portland lately (and then they link to an article we posted way back in March).
I don’t agree that the topic has been “hot” lately; but it might be now, thanks to this misguided publicity stunt.
The problem is that the question has (yet again) been posed in a discriminatory and unbalanced way. It plays into the idea that there are two classes of people, “cyclists” and “motorists,” and that “cyclists” are somehow getting a free ride and don’t deserve to be on the roads.
That premise is blatantly untrue.
No matter how many times it’s rationally refuted, this question about whether bikes pay for the roads continues to come up.
So, let’s review a few things:
According to the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA), 92% of the funds for local roads (the ones where people ride bikes the most) come from property, income, and sales taxes — which everyone pays for.
Most people don’t ride on interstates or state highways, but 8% of highway funds come from general taxes, which are paid by everyone — so people who don’t even own a car end up subsidizing motor vehicle travel.
But that’s just the start of the subsidies all taxpayers (yes, even “cyclists”) pay. Consider how general taxes help pay for all the fire trucks and ambulances that respond to the daily carnage caused by cars crashing into each other.
And that’s just the start. I could mention how bikes have a negligible impact on roads, where cars and trucks cause extensive and expensive damage (ridden over any big bumps/ruts/potholes lately?).
In fact, a May 2008 study by UC Davis’ Institute for Transportation Studies estimated that; “the total ‘tax subsidy’ to motor-vehicle users in the US may be in the range of $19–64 billion per year, or $0.11–0.37 per gallon of motor fuel.” (Thanks to a commenter below for pointing this study out.)
Oh, and there’s also the thing about how having bikes on the road means lower health care costs, safer streets for all users (not just people on bikes), better air quality, less congestion, and so on and so forth.
It’s very unfortunate that this ad campaign will do nothing but perpetuate a fallacy and enrage people in cars who already spew this question as they rage by people on bikes who have every right to be on the road.
And, like similar arguments I’ve had to make when The Oregonian and a local shock-jock radio station irresponsibly fanned the “bikes vs. cars” flames, this type of thing can have a tangible, negative impact on public safety.
If they wanted to delve into this topic, they should have asked “Do people who drive cars pay enough?” or even better, “How the heck are we going to pay for these roads?!”
The company says they’ll plaster another MAX train with the results of their study. We can’t wait. Maybe once this is over we can finally move on to a more important topic.