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Tale of two taxes: bicycle tax and taxing the system

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Tale of Two Taxes: The bicycle tax and taxing transportation system.

The Bike Industry leaders in the May 15th BikePDX article state an excellent articulation of the troubles with taxing a single mode. Earlier this month a comment was made about taxing the ADA modes of wheel chairs & personal mobility devices as bringing intersections into ADA compliance is expensive. Taxing waffle material on sneakers could sarcastically satisfy the madness of Trump to balance tariffs in making pedestrians pay for Walk lights and stripe-ings and street calming measures. These, of course, are a snarky revelation that taxing a mode share can be a ridiculous paradigm.

But perhaps we need to chess move ahead. One of the programs that was successful in England was allowing companies to buy bicycles for their employees. The company could write off the bicycle costs as a company expense. The employee was then allowed to buy the bicycle from the company with specific employment guidelines (e.g. duration of employment). The employee could use pretax payroll dollars to purchase the bicycle. This boosted the use of bicycles tremendously during the ‘programme.’ This could be a simple amendment attached to the transportation bill which supports a positive active transportation scheme. Using honey to reduce cars on the road might be a bigger benefit than the 2 million potential dollars income from taxing bicycles. We need a legislator to write an amendment.

Associated with this concept is also a bicycle tax credit for those individuals who do not own a car and have purchased a new bicycle for the primary transportation. This would be easy to check through Oregon DMV. Again, to echo all the dealers: we need to promote efficient, health maintaining, sustainable modes of transportation. We need a legislator to write an amendment.

I spent a frustrating decade of the 2000s talking with legislative people who kept telling me that they receive more calls from angry citizens that bicycles don’t pay their way than they did from citizens who want bicycle infrastructure. The old BTA produced two great position papers in those days to show how people who ride bicycles do pay for road transportation in many ways. Our anemic sector participation in government of the last decades has come to roost in many ways. I ~sometimes late at night~ felt ‘let them tax us- get this off the table so we can have substantial development of infrastructure instead of millimeter steps. In those days, it was a turncoat’s idea to acquiesce to paying tax on bicycles. And there still is an vague sense that there is a potential quid pro quo of ODOT saying, well you only raised 2 million in taxes and that’s all you get for active transportation. We are still having this partisan, polarizing conversation as car drivers get to stare at each other at slower congested speeds and bicycles get to whiz by them at healthy speeds.

It is also frustrating that cars represent half of all the 3 mile trips. It is frustrating that the ODOT’s Orego system of taxing miles used instead of gas consumed gets such a bad rap. The Orego system as presented in our Oregon’s sustainability meetings in 2008 has the potential of taxing congestion. This is because the system knows exactly where and when you are on a congested highway and time period. No different than the iphone’s Find Friends. Literally, the tax could be applied where and when congestion occurred. For example, if you entered I-84 at 181st street and came into downtown, that precise route by the vehicle is recorded & could be charged a congestion rate from 730 to 930 AM. The structure is there. This is much less programming than the algorithms of driverless vehicles proceeding along I-84 during congested highway times. There was no political will to forecast this as a solution. ODOT and legislators cowered then and now.

Thinking that bicycling is taxing our transportation system costs and a bicycle tax is part of a bill that attempts to ameliorate congestion makes me mad. The child in me wants to strike/protest and really show how the absence of bicycles would tax the system. One idea that Lenny Anderson and I had separately was to have an All Car Day in Portland. Organize all those who bicycle to work crossing the bridges to get up early (530-600 AM) and occupy all the parking spaces with cars. Park in all the spaces on the street. Park in all the garages. Have a simple sign on each car stating “This car was a bicycle yesterday.” Imagine the 14,000 bikes coming into downtown Portland being a car instead. What a reality check for those complaining about congestion. Cars tax the system, not bicycles. ~AJZ

Guest article: My view of “OreGo”, Oregon’s new vehicle mileage tax program

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
Screengrab from OreGo website.

Screengrab from OreGo website.

This post is written by Jerry “AJ” Zelada, a Portland-based optometrist, citizen advocate, and former chair of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

I am one of the 891 users of OreGo (the State of Oregon’s experimental new road tax program) who paid the road use tax this past year. As readers here might recall, I was critical of the gas tax increase because the consumption of this resource is declining and will decline even further as auto and light truck efficiency increases and electric car numbers increase. And while I did vote for it, I am still opposed to taxing a resource rather than taxing actual use.

The OreGo program is a good tax mechanism. The program uses a simple plug-in device that measures miles driven. You are taxed 1.5 cents a mile and given credit for your expected payment at the pump. It is subtracted from a simple ‘wallet’ account. OreGo is also about data. It produces solid information about usage beyond miles driven; but the focus is so motor-vehicle oriented, we may miss including tax income for active transportation needs.
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Death and Congestion

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

I have been thinking about death lately.

First~ there is Vision Zero; there are my patients (I work with the end of life vision care); every month there are friends and acquaintances who face an earlier demise than the rest of us; and then there is Ragnar. Ragnar is in a soap opera that I watch faithfully and he keeps wondering what day he is going to die in his Viking world. He keeps seeing the Gates of Valhalla. He like us wants to know when the Gates will welcome him. And as much as ODOT/PBOT has a list of 100+ unsafe/dangerous intersections, we still never can predict which intersection doors of Valhalla will swallow another soul.

This leads me to think how can we change the things we can change.
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ODOT Bike/Ped Plan: State’s Safe Routes to School program gets only token support

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Gem of Oregon: Safe Routes to Schools

Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) is mentioned 13 times in the Bicycle Pedestrian Plan. Five are simple references. This program is the star of Oregon’s bicycle and pedestrian evolution but it is but a token of support by ODOT.

SRTS was started by an annual 1 million federal dollars line item for each state and has had to be renewed each year until the Map 21 budget. The Feds stopped the program and said to the states: it is okay to take the SRTS support from other parcels of Fed active transportation money…14 states terminated SRTS. Admirably, Oregon continued support and it does so today. We do thank them. BUT.

SRTS is still a step child shunted in the attic. ODOT has this program in the Safety division. Sounds logical. Safety budget is 32 million. Sounds good. BUT.

Safe Routes to Schools should be the centerpiece of the Bicycle Pedestrian Plan. It is an intergeneration program. It brings two generations into Active Transportation. It teaches traffic from the perspective of the pedestrian and the vulnerable roadway user. It teaches that destinations can be within active transportation range. It converts short automobile trips of 1 to 3 miles into active transportation. It teaches daily exercise which reduces the numbers of sedentary-related obese kids. And this teaches that narcissistic automobile and bicycle behavior is bad.
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ODOT Bike/Ped Plan: Absent Health

Monday, February 8th, 2016

The Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan includes Health as its sixth goal. It is 1/2 page in the summary and barely 1 full page in the latest Draft (Feb 2016). Health is on the backburner; Active Transportation deserves better.

The Plan continues a lip service to integration of Health & Transportation . In 2014, an Oregon white paper on Health and Transportation initiated a discussion about Health but also included other states’ opinion of health as a factor in transportation. The Plan truncates those results of health to feel-good language:
promotion of biking/walking to improve air quality and to give opportunity for physical activity.

The Plan could declare populating ODOT directly with resources regarding Health. The heart of health & transportation is asking do we have the right people at the table making decisions? I would suggest the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan respond by including Health at every table as more than a memorandum of understanding.
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ODOT Bike/Ped Plan: No Teeth

Monday, February 8th, 2016

No Teeth

The Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan is a sprawling document of how we got here. The summary is a wonderful 10 page mix that will tell the world what we were thinking we want to be. As one digs into the body of the latest draft plan (Feb 2016), one is overwhelmed at the 85 pages of thoughts. It is a great History and a compulsive obsessive’s delight of detail in many arenas from the ADA to Zany acronyms. The contributors of the committee & staff members deserve a sincere thanks for this umbrella document.

I find it is missing teeth. It asks nothing of ODOT to execute these ideas. The language is tepid: “expand upon, communicate, identify, improve, seek opportunity.” Active verbs go missing.

Performance Measures are its weakest link. The Plan’s first goal is Safety and in particular the reduction of fatalities and serious injury (pgs35-38). It asks for a number of strategies: update the ODOT Highway Design Manual, determination of the level of separations needed for the roadway cross sections, illumination improvement, reduced pedestrian exposure time of crossing multi-lanes, using designs ‘where’ speed contributes to risk, study and examine guidance to address speed, exploring safety risk by sharing data, etc….I think you get the idea. My direct complaint is that ODOT’s implementation is not addressed.
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The case against using gas taxes for bike infrastructure

Friday, December 4th, 2015
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A gas station on W Burnside.
(Photo: C.M. Keiner)

Editor’s note: We’re highlighting this (lightly edited) BikePortlander post as a comment of the week. It’s a doozy, but it’s provocative. The author, A.J. Zelada, is a past contributor who has volunteered as a transportation advisor for Oregon and others.

Now that Black Friday came and went, I want you to rethink the gas-tax approach to boosting active transportation revenue.

I think the gas tax is a snake eating its own tail. It undermines the serious effort we need.

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