Oregon’s bike tax revenue is far below expectations, while admin overhead is going up

Customers at Universal Cycles on SE Ankeny are greeted with these signs at the checkout counter.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Through three quarters of its first year in existence, Oregon’s $15 bicycle excise tax has added $489,000 into state coffers. That’s a lot lower than state economists expected. Overhead costs are also more than expected and are likely to climb even higher as officials beef up filing enforcement efforts.

As OPB reported last week, officials from the Department of Revenue, Oregon Department of Transportation and the Legislative Revenue Office have been updating lawmakers on receipts from the slew of new taxes and fees included in the $5.3 billion transportation package passed in 2017. Among them was the infamous $15 tax that applies to every new bicycle valued at $200 or higher sold in Oregon.

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A TV station interviewed me about the bike tax. Here’s what I said – (Video)

Watch the full interview below.

Until last week, I probably expressed more of my thoughts about Oregon’s new bike tax on Twitter than I had here on the blog.

Sometimes when I have a lot to say about a complicated, or sensitive, or generally unwieldy issue, it’s hard for me to organize all my thoughts into coherent sentences (I know, a bad trait for a writer).

So when a KATU (local ABC affiliate) producer reached out last week and asked if I’d be on their Your Voice, Your Vote show, I was happy to oblige. I was on the Sunday morning news show five years ago and had a great experience. Back then the topic was a proposal to license bicycle riders. After both myself and the man proposing the idea had a chance to explain our views in a neutral setting, the proposal went away and was never heard about again (hmm, I wonder why?).

Then and now, I relished the opportunity to explain my views in a calm and professional format with an experienced broadcast journalist as moderator. It’s the opposite of arguing on the Internet.

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It has begun: Oregon-inspired tax on bicycles spreads to Colorado


After learning about Oregon’s new tax on bicycles, a lawmaker from Colorado says he wants to do the same thing.

ColoradoPolitics.com has reported that “influential” Republican Ray Scott (Grand Junction) wants to introduce his own bike tax bill.

“We will be proposing something similar. They use the roads also,” Scott reportedly posted on his Facebook page after reading a story about the tax in the Washington Times.

As part of his rationale, Scott says other types of vehicles pay a tax so it’s an issue of fairness. “If we’re not going to tax bicycles, then let’s not tax boats, ATVs and every other vehicle out there that already pay all these taxes… how many rights do we give to cyclists that we don’t give to everybody else on the road? I’m asking.” When someone reminded him that bicycles don’t damage the roads, Scott replied, “Snowmobiles don’t hurt the snow, ATV’s don’t hurt the dirt, boats don’t hurt the water and they pay a tax, maybe we should eliminate those taxes.”

So here we go.

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It’s official: Oregon now has a $15 bike tax

Read it and weep. Or rejoice, if you think it’s a great idea.

With passage in the Senate today, Oregon’s transportation bill is headed to the Governor’s desk for signing.

We’ve got lots more coverage planned, but there’s one thing that I felt should be singled out. Take a deep breath and consider this: Oregon is now the only state in America with a bicycle excise tax.

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Three City Club ideas that aren’t about bike taxes

Cully Boulevard cycle track
Cully Boulevard cycle track

A City Club committee found that separated cycle tracks connecting neighborhoods,
like this one on NE Cully Boulevard, should be the city’s priority for bike
infrastructure even if it means eliminating painted bike lanes on other streets.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

At its regular Friday Forum today at noon, the Portland City Club will hear from a panel of bike experts and vote on the big report about biking in Portland released Wednesday.

If you’ve only heard one thing about the report, it’s probably that it was the latest venue for a group of bike supporters to endorse a dedicated tax on retail bike sales.

But that was far from the only idea in the 83-page report. For example, here are three more interesting conclusions about how to improve biking in Portland from the report, which was a year in the making:

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Report reignites talk of bike excise tax – but advocates aren’t howling

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
North Portland Bikeworks new location-11-10

Would you like tax with that? Maybe you would, actually.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Today’s Portland City Club report that gave a big bear hug to biking also said buyers of new bikes should pay a special tax: 4 percent on each new bike purchase in Oregon, or $20 for a $500 bike.

The report recommended that the money — it’d be about $840,000 annually for the State of Oregon — go to programs that support and educate road users about bikes.

The city’s bicycle advocates aren’t exactly thrilled. But perhaps surprisingly, they aren’t gasping in horror, either.

“Generally speaking, the BTA is opposed to any new barrier between people and biking,” Bicycle Transportation Alliance advocacy director Gerik Kransky said today. “That being said, we’re open to the conversation. … It looks like their ideas about how to spend the money are pointed in the right direction.”

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WA legislator: “Cyclists’ increased respiration” leads to air pollution – UPDATED

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Rep. Ed Orcutt thinks that “bicyclists
are actually polluting when they ride” because,
“the act of riding a bike results in greater
emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.”

A high-ranking Washington legislator has added insult to injury in his support for a bike tax by claiming that bicycling is not environmentally friendly because people who ride bikes pollute the air when they breathe.

An email that surfaced online today from Washington State Representative Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) outlines his position on the transportation tax recently proposed by Democrats in the Washington legislature (read update below for source of the email). As we shared a few weeks ago, part of the tax package includes a tax on the sale of bicycles. Rep. Orcutt is staunchly opposed to taxes of any kind and is even opposed to the gas tax increases in this legislation; but in an email dated February 25th, Orcutt expresses his support for the bicycle tax provision. Most of his argument is not terribly surprising: He believes only people who drive pay for the roads, “So it only makes sense that bicyclists would be required to pay for the ‘roads’ they use.”

But in his email (full text below) that was posted to Twitter this morning by Seattle resident Astrid Rial and has been authenticated by Seattle Bike Blog he writes, “bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride” because, “the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.”

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Why House Rep. Tobias Read signed onto the bike toll bill

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Tobias Read

HB 3152, a bill to toll people riding bikes across a new I-5/Columbia River bridge has reared its head in the state legislature. Surprising as the bill itself was to anyone with a reasonable understanding of transportation policy, what was even more surprising to us was that House Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) was listed as a co-sponsor.

Rep. Read’s unabashed and full-fledged support of the Columbia River Crossing project is worthy of our attention in and of itself; but why would he go even further and sign onto a bill that has even more dubious policy underpinnings than the freeway expansion project that inspired it?

Rep. Read reached out to me via telephone this morning to explain the context of his support for HB 3152.

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“Symbolic” bike tax proposed in Washington should sound familiar

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
North Portland Bikeworks new location-11-10

Don’t forget to add tax.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Seattle Times reported today on a $10 billion transportation funding package introduced by state lawmakers. The package includes a provision that would levy $25 tax on the sale of all bicycles over $500. The tax would be one of six revenue streams and would be expected to raise a mere $1 million per year.

Interestingly, a bike sales tax is not a foreign concept here in Oregon. In fact, it has been supported in the past by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Metro, PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller, and even Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

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How do you feel about a bike excise tax?

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
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.

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Bike tax seen as neccessary to address “political reality”

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

“We’re not going to put our blinders on and say ‘no, we refuse to talk about it’.”
–BTA lobbyist Karl Rohde

One of the many interesting conversations that we’ll follow in the upcoming legislative session is the concept of a bike tax.

We shared news of the tax last week and reported that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is discussing the idea with lawmakers in Salem and a committee formed by Metro is supportive of the concept. The idea is to charge an excise tax (in the realm of $5-20) at the point-of-sale on new bicycles.

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Colorado Springs loves their bike excise tax

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

“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:

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