How do you feel about a bike excise tax?

Cyclepath Bike Shop - NE Portland
A bike tax has more supporters
than you might think.
(Photo © J. Maus)

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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