2010 will be a year of major discussions about how to finance America’s transportation system. As the use of bicycles is taken more seriously and more money is spent on bike-centric facilities, calls for a revenue stream taken directly from people who ride bicycles — as opposed to the gas tax — are sure to grow louder.
One idea that seems to be growing in support is a bicycle excise tax that would be charged at the point of sale of new bikes and/or bike parts.
The idea is obviously popular with people who represent highway users, but I’ve noticed a growing number of high-profile bike advocates, politicians, and organizations express their support as well.
In a story in The Oregonian this week, City of Portland bike coordinator Roger Geller said, “There’s a symbolic value to cyclists paying.” Reporter Joseph Rose added that Geller, “likes the idea of a small excise tax on new bikes, tires or innertubes.”
Back in December, the bike movement’s biggest champion on Capitol Hill, Rep. Earl Blumenauer said something very similar. Here’s an excerpt from a Streetsblog DC report of what Blumenauer told a crowd assembled for the Cities for Cycling launch:
“… he added that “investments from the bicycling community” to help pay for better road quality and more bike infrastructure might be a smart move. “In fairness,” Blumenauer said, “we’d be better off if we had a tiny fee” on some cycling equipment, such as a bike tire tax.”
Support for a bike excise tax has also been supported by Metro, our regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). In a case statement they submitted to Congress in 2008, under the heading of “New Funding,” they wrote:
“Potential for Bicycle Community Contribution. Pursue a contribution or registration fee for bicycles to engage cyclists and to address concern, however mistaken, that cyclists don’t carry their weight. This may be an important equity effort, rather than a key funding source.”
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) has been open to the idea of a bicycle tax twice in recent years. In 2005, former executive director Scott Bricker worked with a legislator on a bike tax proposal (it didn’t end up going anywhere) and in 2008, the BTA’s former lobbyist Karl Rohde said they support the concept.
Noted Portland bike lawyer Ray Thomas thinks the BTA and the League of American Bicyclists should make a bike tax a priority. “When bicyclists can point to tax they pay toward roads,” Thomas wrote in a comment on BikePortland in 2008, “… then we will have a real seat at the transportation table.”
A bike tax is already in use in several other countries and cities. Colorado has one. So does the U.K.
In Australia, a bike tax funds their Cycling Promotion Fund.
What do you think about a bike excise tax? Is this something bike advocates should get behind? Would a tax on new bikes and bike parts raise the money and political capital needed to move bicycling forward in America?
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How do I feel?
I’m taxed enough subsidizing the auto-centric infrastructure.
A bike tax is petty, an administrative waste of money, and we should not be taxing activities we want to encourage – but I like it.
The amount of the tax will not be enough to discourage bike use, and as described above the symbolic value more than pays for itself.
I suppose it’s only fair, but I have three bikes already and won’t buy a new one for several years. Many commuters I know are in the same boat. So I guess my tubes and misc. supplies would get taxed. Would that really amount to anything over the course of two years?
I don’t mean to be contrarian, but I dislike this whole concept. I get the idea that it’s a show of good faith, and let’s us say, “Hey, we pay, see?” But for years I’ve been saying, “Hey, I pay, see? I have a car, I pay the same stuff you do,” and nobody listens. What’s next, an excise tax on shoe sales to help pay for sidewalks so that walkers can have a spot at the table.?
I’m really torn on this one. On one hand, shouldn’t we tax cars for their destructive impact on the environment before we ever create a new tax on a cleaner and healthier mode of transportation?
On the other hand, bikes still lack clout (though it’s getting better!) and a tax would both improve their image and support more infrastructure.
Do we have any idea what the numbers would be? For example, how much revenue would be generated by a 1% tax on new bike sales?
Two months I hated the idea. I thought it sent the wrong message and I thought it only would reinforce what car-minded advocates all ready thought: we aren’t paying our way. I also feel as though once the car-minded peeps get that from us, it will be rife for abuse later.
Now I’m on the fence about it, but cynically so.
And I agree with K’tesh as well, but I think the benefits of such a silly tax will outweigh the costs.
I’ve just added an update to the story… calculations based on a 12% tax on new bikes would raise about $367 million a year. that’s not chump change.
If there’s a tire tax do you get an exemption for riding through glass all the time? That one is going to be an *ahem* two edged shard.
I paid income taxes in two states, federal taxes, gas taxes, sometimes sales taxes, car taxes, etc… Why are they thinking that cyclists do NOT pay taxes?
I”m all for it…on two conditions..its a reasonable amount..and the money raised goes directly into new, safe, and usable bicycle infrastructure…
an excise tax imposed on the purchase of this or that quickly becomes a backdoor sales tax. if we are going to adopt a sales tax, it ought to be through the front door and with serious policy discussions about exemptions, etc. if the only “symbolic” value to an excise on bikes and/or bike parts is to assuage motorists who are misinformed about the degree to which their preferred mode is subsidized, then it is exactly the wrong thing to do. if instead the tax is a quid pro quo for some serious concessions to respecting the bicycle as transportation, we might have a conversation. what would those concessions be? repeal the mandatory sidepath law, confiscate motor vehicles from repeat offenders, local control of speed limits, more stringent reporting of collisions involving vulnerable users . . . the list goes on and on. without these, there is no point in talking.
Yes, the UK has a bike levy. It’s called BikeHub, has been running for 5+ years and is a voluntary industry thing.
It pays for Bike Week, a whole bunch of pro-cycling projects, and Bike It, a cycling-to-school programme that was so successful it now gets lots of extra funding from other sources, including Government cash. I sit on the Bike Hub committee and it’s been a great project.
The levy is a very, very small amount on the price on a bike or bike parts.
If there was something more formal that this levy, for instance, to pay for infrastructure I think that would raise more concerns.
Infrastructure is a national, Government issue; something to be paid for out of general taxation, not ring-fenced funds.
Ring-fencing carries all sorts of potential problems, which was why the UK ‘road tax’ was given a killer blow by Winston Churchill in 1926.
With hypothecated taxes other sorts of impositions can be slipped in too, such as bicycle registration and licensing of cyclists. There are pros and cons to this; but it’s mostly cons:
I don’t think a bike excise tax is likely to raise enough money to do anything really significant in terms of funding bike projects, but at least then there would be a concrete thing we say we pay towards.
My worry is that it would then be easy for state or city legislators to regulate that only that money be spent on specific cycling infrastructure, not any of the “automobile road money”.
I still disagree with the underlying premise that “cyclists” don’t pay for the roads, I think it’s a ridiculous statement, but in the interest of furthering acceptance of bicycle infrastructure, I would be willing to pay a small excise tax. After all, I only buy tires once every couple of years anyway 🙂
I also think Ryan G has a point, in that I could also see it being just the start of more restrictions/fees.
Jonathan, 12% is a HUGE tax. That would significantly impact bike sales.
So a 1% tax would net about 30 million? Over the entire US? Not impressive…
I feel like transportation funding is complicated enough that it becomes a political shell game to demonstrate that as cyclists we already pay for our share in media sized bites.
Almost nobody believes that bike lanes aren’t paid for by gas taxes, unfortunately. It’s disappointing, but it seems to be one of those things where it has been repeated enough times to become “true.”
So, if a symbolic tax is what it takes to get more people on the wagon, I’ll bite. I’m sure a lot of dumb hoops have to be jumped through for any special interest to get up to the table. It doesn’t have much to do with “fair” but that’s pretty much my only objection.
If I paid an excise tax would I get top notch, safe bike routes and infrastructure throughout the entire metro area? I highly doubt it. Pass. I shouldn’t have to pay more tax than I already do to support glamorous bike projects in downtown pdx while I have to ride on questionable bike lanes and poor infrastructure in the outlying areas.
I’m for the tax. It buys a seat at the table. A small price to pay for the absolute right to see who pays their fair share.
If gas taxes went back to being what they were historically (as a percentage of the cost) then I would be for it. As it stands, general funds are being used to subsidize motor vehicles, meaning bicyclists arguably already pay their bike tax AND some for infrastructure they don’t use.
I could also see this kind of tax having a negative impact on bike shops – I mean, if I had to pay 12% extra on the purchase of a bike or tires or whatever, I’d be significantly more reluctant to do so, and I’d probably either wait as long as possible (in terms of tires or other consumables), or just make do with what I have already (in terms of the bike itself).
How about people of low economic standing? A 12% increase in price might literally make it impossible for them to purchase a bike or afford new tires, etc.
Boooo…hiss…..boo…ENOUGH ALREADY. I ain’t payin no doggone bike tax, no way, no how. I hereby DECLARE the Bike Tea Party REVOLT.
I’m with Nick #15. So with a 12% tax, a $2000 bike would jump an extra $240. That’s steep. I would agree to maybe 4% or 5% tops.
I support a tax, but less than 12%.
Anyone know the current rate on a new auto? I believe it varies from state to state.
If it translates into additional (tangible) infrastructure, I’d go yay. If, on the other hand it’s lost in some abstract black hole of politicians’ personal purse, hell no.
Novel: perhaps improved maintenance of what we already have? I can list scores of paths that are pitiful remnants of some token offering by government. Get the dudes off their arses and on some handles for routine cleaning and repair of the existing.
Do volunteers have to police everything? I do have a full-time job (real job) I attend to, so my personal volunteer time budget is limited.
Paul Tay – please never link bicycles to the tea party movement.
12% on new bikes sounds outrageous to me. I hope that’s not what Earl has in mind.
pay a tax to be terrorized on the streets of America? sounds like a great deal to me.
we’re already paying in particulates consumed. that one study has received scant attention — not sure why. we all read that being inside a car is worse than being outside a car, but it didn’t take into account breathing rates.
if there was a successful bike tax in the Netherlands, i’d be open to even thinking about some type of bike tax, but pointing to incredible bike failures like the UK and Australia, i’m not going to give it a chance.
that said, regarding bicycle facilities, places like The Netherlands and Denmark and Germany and other ‘cycling utopias’ are still horrific by any normal standard of decency — we’ve just been so abused here in the US that we think a simple cycletrack is the end-all/be-all.
and to have ‘leading lights’ exclaiming how i’m a cheater and don’t pay my fair share, is just wonderful.
if we had a 5-cent sales tax on bike purchases, then it would accurately address that wear and tear and construction and maintenance costs of the roads we’re allowed to ride on. and i’ll support that 5-cent sales tax when the car purchase sales tax is $500,000, which would possibly come close to accurately addressing the true costs of automobile use — the negative externalities of auto use are really too great to even comprehend, so we just need to get rid of them. this talk of a ‘bike tax’ is garbage — when cars start paying me for sucking up their carcinogens, for destroying the quality of life in my city, for maiming and killing and generally terrorizing people, then we’ll talk bike tax.
Big ups to Singapore-like car taxes!
Big ups to Spring!
If the LAB and BTA want to support a new tax, they should be working on pushing higher gas taxes. It’ll have two benefits: high gas prices create an incentive for more people to start cycling, and some of the extra money can be used on educating people on how road systems are paid for.
I have serious concerns about a 12% sales tax exclusive to bicycle-related purchases. Will it be on sales of new bikes, tires and tubes only? What about used? What about service? When will it creep to include other bicycle parts and/or service?
When will it form the precedent for a more general sales tax?
And how will we insure that all proceeds go directly for bicycle infrastructure? And as others have commented, how will that infrastructure be apportioned? Will it go to, say, cleaning the roadside where existing bike lanes create the expectation that I’m supposed to use them? What is an improvement to a street versus a bike-related improvement?
How long before whining, poorly-educated motorists start claiming the fund as their own because bicycles still use “their” streets?
I have A LOT of problems with this tax.
We may be reaching a tipping point in this country on taxes. Government projects and services cost money. For years, we’ve resorted to “smoke and mirrors” accounting tricks to pay for things while promising to keep the tax burden low on the middle class. That may have to change.
Rather than piling on new taxes that target bike riders, car owners, one legged cellists, etc., perhaps we need to seek a full scale overhaul of the tax codes at all levels of government? Flat tax rates and very limited deductions / shelters may be in order to spread the costs of ALL government subsidies fairly.
Declining fuel tax revenues are not going to be (even marginally) offset by increasing taxes on cyclists, and the majority of infrastructure will continue to be funded by general income and property tax revenues.
Any reasonable tax won’t be large enough to cover the cost of administration, a point which the noise machine will surely hammer on as soon as it’s instituted as both increasing the reach of government and not paying for itself which will in this (particular) instance be true.
12% is ridiculous and I’d fight that tooth and claw.
I will NEVER EVER support any organization that supports bike tax. @Roger Geller, who’s side are ya on, son?
#12 are: +1
We are talking a federal tax, right?
It’s a bad idea just to placate the myth that people on bikes don’t pay for road infrastructure. I prefer a strong national campaign that illustrates the facts about who pays for what.
I prefer taxing the importation of artificially cheap cycling related goods and raw materials from overseas but that would not likely be a levy which creates restricted funds usable on bike infrastructure. I’d prefer a state sales tax on all goods with a percentage that goes toward state infrastructure since we are all in this together whether we walk, pedal, bus or drive.
By taxing cycling related items only, we drive a wedge between modes when we should look at it from a holistic view.
Roads are for moving people and goods, not just cars.
“pay a tax to be terrorized on the streets of America? sounds like a great deal to me.”
“If the LAB and BTA want to support a new tax, they should be working on pushing higher gas taxes.”
“How long before whining, poorly-educated motorists start claiming the fund as their own because bicycles still use “their” streets?”
The very connotation of the phrase ‘bike tax’, is bad; ‘We’re going to tax you for riding your bike.’ People that ride bikes are helping to use the road more efficiently, and for thanks, they get taxed. Photographic illustration of just how efficiently bikes use the street compared to motor vehicles:
wee bit of street space bikes use compared to cars
Still, I’d be receptive to making a contribution to bike lane infrastructure construction and maintenance through something like a sales tax on bike tires, for the symbolic gesture. Not that such a tax is likely to do diddly to actually pay a very big portion of those costs, or quell the complaints of the ‘they don’t pay their way’ crowd that never, ever thinks through the limiting realities of actually obtaining money directly from people that own and ride bikes for general purposes.
Incidentally, in yesterday’s Oregonian, writer Joseph Rose did a column bike registration, due to it often being suggested as a way to directly derive road infrastructure funding from people that ride bikes. (fortunately this column of his is ‘think-tank free’):
O story, Registering Bikes, it’s No Money Maker …joe rose
He’s got quotes from several sources suggesting that bike registration does not pay. Makes statements that simply explain:
“… No road, bridge or highway ramp gets built in Oregon without help from federal funds. Of the $293 million budgeted for Portland road projects through 2013, for example, only 7 percent, or about $20 million, will come from state gas tax revenue, vehicle registration fees and local parking fines. Federal grants will cover 39 percent, or $114.8 million. …”
– We already pay taxes that go to fund roads and highways, and mostly for infrastructure that we make less use of and do less damage to than motorists.
– Taxing specific activities you want to encourage sends the wrong message.
– The amount of money from a reasonable tax rate on some reasonable item(s) (that might not discourage anyone) would be insignificant.
– Either we have already bought a seat at the table (because we already pay), assuming you accept the “pay to play” rule, or we should not need to, because who gets input into our transportation choices should not be based on “paying to play” but on the fact that mobility is a basic economic and community service. I prefer the latter.
I think it’s frankly alarming and dismaying that people in the bike community are allowing this to become a point of debate. It’s invalid and pointless and it should be treated as such.
I agree with the others that say 12% is an outrageous amount to tack on to a new bike purchase. An extra $120 for a $1000 bike? That’s as much as a decent rack and fenders would cost. I don’t pay that much to register my car! Because cyclists save so much (for ourselves AND others) by not using a car, should we be over-surcharged to make up the difference?
As soon as we tax carpoolers for using HOV lanes, have coin-operated pedestrian signals, and put parking meters in residential neighborhoods–for guests AND residents–I’ll consider paying a bike excise tax. Until then, it is nothing more than “protection money” collected by bullies that isn’t going to buy any “seats” at any “table”, and isn’t likely to result in the improvement of my cycling experience one iota.
On second thought: absolutely not.
Can the BTA, LAB and People for Bikes and BikePortland and all these other disparate groups with similar support for cycling please come together with a national information campaign to quell this idea.
An excise tax on bikes is bullshit.
If BTA pursues getting such an excise tax…if they even put it on their agenda without a strong argument against it, I am pulling my membership and never volunteering for them again.
I’m not sure where this 12% came from– but if that’s what’s being proposed, then it’s a punitive tax that punishes people who ride or purchase bikes and bike parts.
Washington’s sales tax is only, what, 8%? Something like that?
I would be very averse to paying a sales tax on top of the income tax I already pay. And the property taxes I already pay. And the fees to license and register my car.
Speaking of fees and whatnot, I’m guessing ODR would administer this tax and take charge of all the money– how can we make sure this tax gets applied only to bicycle projects? Because that’s about the only way I’d even think about being in favor of this idea.
This had better be very well thought-out and vetted, publicly, before any implementation occurs. Are the powers-that-be going to make sure that the cost to implement and oversee the program does not exceed the amount of money it’s supposed to bring in?
I can’t see this idea actually getting cycling a seat at the table, anyway, unless it’s a high chair at the kid table in the other room.
As Joseph Rose pointed out in the O, what’s next, a tax on sneakers so those pedestrians will finally pay their way?
Yeah, I understand the symbolic value of a tax, but doubt that anything will appease the real anti-bike crowd that is always calling for bikes to pay “their fair share”. So what’s next up after this if they get their way- a tax on shoes to pay for crosswalks? Clearly pedestrians don’t pay their fair share, and should have no right to get in the way of cars either.
I think it is thewrong aproach. There are a galillion used bikes out there right now that could be purchased without paying the tax. 2nd- it is going to put such a strain on bike builders and bike dealers that they will be the ones suffering, and perhaps failed business.
Registration fees foor all adult cyclists would be more fair. Waived fees for disabled or seniors.
A tax or fee on bicycles would have three very significant positives:
1. It represents a gesture of goodwill toward drivers who feel that bicycles are a nuisance. There are significant advantages to this over leaving such legislation to legislators who represent frustrated drivers. This would show that people who ride bikes aren’t selfish, spoiled, immature, etc. – as many drivers perceive the bicycle community to be. Unfortunately, many bike advocates seem intent on picking fights with bigger, more powerful lobbying groups.
2. If bicycle riders pay the tax directly, they will have a greater measure of control over the way these funds are distributed. I see many bicycle improvements that have little benefit for bikes – does every suburb need bike lanes on every single low traffic street?
3. A bicycle tax, if combined with a reporting system that tracked bike serial numbers, could help crack down on bicycle theft.
That being said, rather than an excise tax, I’d suggest a bike sales tax in the ballpark of 5%. Folks, that’s peanuts – we’re talking $50 on a $1000 bike.
I hear a lot of arguments re: the cost of maintenance and wear and tear of car v. bike, but not a whole lot regarding the initial cost of the roads (which the bike lanes are a part of).
Sure, bikes do not create that much wear and tear, but the roads need to be built before we can add the bike lanes to them.
If a 5% bike tax insured that all future roads were built with bike infrastructure, wouldn’t that be worth it?
I’m generally a fan of taxes as the price you pay for civilization. But ideally you want to tax the things you want less of (e.g. carbon) and subsidize the things you want more of. Right now, we do the opposite by heavily subsidizing cars, roads, the whole environmentally destructive petro-economy (including military expenditures to maintain access to MIddle East oil). If we impose a tax on healthy transportation like bikes, we’d be discouraging their use while still encouraging unhealthy, inefficient transportation through subsidies (hidden and otherwise) to cars.
Also, the idea of a user paid sales tax encourages the idea that investing in bikes is something just for bikers, which makes us easy to marginalize even further in a car-centric culture. In fact, subsidizing — rather than taxing — bikes benefits lots of non bikers: people who drive (and get less gridlock because many who drive will now be biking); people who breathe (less pollution); people who pay for medical care (bikers are healthier and don’t impose costs on the health care system that are shifted to other users); people who benefit from reduced global warming (i.e. all of us), etc etc. Those beneficiaries should be reimbursing and subsidizing for the benefits they’re receiving from people who bicycle, but not paying for.
In other words, bikes are not equal to cars when it comes to helping the economy and the environment — they’re superior, and they should be subsidized, not taxed.
If we support a tax, we encourage the kind of thinking that people who use bikes to get around are just another special interest that should “pay our own way,” when in fact, investing in bicycling is a public good that should be publicly supported.
Actually, the users of inefficient transportation that actually harms the environment (not just pollution, but also the costs of sprawl, the colossal costs of road maintenance etc) should be paying more taxes to compensate for the costs they’re imposing on the rest of us but not paying via gas and car taxes, t hanks to hidden subsidies. And as noted above, most of us who bike are already paying to repair the roads that cars (unlike bikes) regularly tear up, via our general taxes and (for us car owners) gas and vehicle taxes.
Of course, this is an economic and environmental argument based on facts, whereas the pro-sales tax argument is all about spin — if we bend over and accept this tax even though it’s based on falsehoods and incorrect assumptions, we benefit politically by catering to ignorance. I understand that’s what often happens in politics (see so-called welfare “reform”), but I’d need to see more evidence t hat such a place at the table would really happen. I’d rather see us focus on getting the facts out about the costs and benefits and subsidies — correct the ignorance that leads to this misbegotten idea. Why should we stoop to the level of the talk radio ignoramuses when we have facts on our side? Every time one of them writes a letter to the paper or vents on the radio or the net, we should be refuting them with a handy, concise list of facts, rather than bowing to their ignorance by cynically buying into a bike tax.
KT- wasnt copying you with the image of taxing shoes- think I was typing that in at the same time. synchronicity is a funny thing….
Anyway I thought the collective experience of bike licensing fees, which might be the best practical analogy to a tax, was that the costs of administration were greater than what was collected. A trap here is if the tax ends up as a dedicated fund for bicycle projects which gives other revenue streams and projects an excuse not to contribute to bike issues.
i absolutely do not buy the seat at the table crap. motorists who think they are paying their way are misinformed, and the proper course is to re-educated them.
and as far as funding bike-specific infrastructure, again: bike lanes and cycletracks benefit primarily motorists by pushing cyclists to the side.
net time i am going to hit the all caps key.
Lots of really good points, but honestly, should I be penalized with double taxation because I choose a different form of transportation than the majority? The concept of taxing me as a gesture of goodwill is even more ridiculous. Drivers will still have a problem with me on ‘their’ roads whether I pay a tax or not. While having a pool of money for bike projects could certainly do good, it will be inexorably tied to road construction and we know that money will be lost to the already unmanageable costs of maintaining the car infrastructure. The overarching car culture (not everyone mind you) doesn’t want us there whether we pay taxes or not. We need to change minds about what it means to travel in this country, not tax a minority group.
there are probably just as many used cars out there and yet people still buy new.
Who is this “they”? Anyone who supports the tax? As Jonathan pointed oput, this has a lot more support than just the anti-bike crowd.
I believe the blog entry was in the spirit of options for gaining more support for cycling infrastructure, not a “us vs. them”.
In short, no.
Does anyone really think that this will “get us a seat at the table?” No.
They’re just looking for another untapped source of revenue to (ab)use to re-direct away from it’s true stated purpose.
I already pay taxes to support roads thank you very much.
I saw a recent reference on this regarding taxing “high end bikes”. I fear that could lead to a form of discrimination toward a class of riders, in that recumbent bikes are more expensive by their nature and more limited production volumes. Slanting a tax toward the ergonomically correct portion of the environmentally correct form of transportation strikes me as a “double whammy”.
And I agree that 12% is an outrageous amount. Put me in the “NO” category.
I’m going to echo the comments here already and just add a small bit: If the full amount went to fund bike-only or bike-centered infrastructure, then yes, but even then 12% is still awful steep. If you want to levy taxes on vehicles for road maintenance, do it in accordance to the degree of road wear the vehicle causes. In this case, it makes those who destroy public property responsible for paying to fix it.