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Should Free-Wheeling be Free? One Oregon Lawmaker Says No.

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday April 9th, 2009 | 9 Comments

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Oregonians love their bikes – and for good reason. Portland and Eugene are among the most progressive cities in the nation when it comes to biking infrastructure (bike lanes, bike racks, etc.). But Oregon representative Wayne Krieger has introduced a bill that would mean this infrastructure would no longer be freely available to two-wheeling citizens. They’d have to pay to ride.
Krieger’s bill, HB 3008, would require cyclists to register and license their bikes for about $27 a year. The bill doesn’t have much chance of advancing, since his fellow Congressmen haven’t granted it a committee work session. But the proposal raises some important questions. Should cyclists help pay for cycling infrastructure? Should cyclists be required to register and license their rides, just like motorists?
Krieger argues that if motorists and cyclists are to share the same roads, cyclists should pay licensing and registration fees, as motorists do. This way, he says, they’ll financially support the road systems and bike lanes from which they benefit. Plus, authorities will have a better way to nail fines on cyclist who disobey traffic laws.


On this GOOD mag blog, editor-in-chief Zach Frechette posits that this notion of taxing cyclists is dumb. Instead of taxing an activity that is good for us and the natural world (or at least, less bad for us and the natural world than driving), we should tax things that are bad for us and the natural world. Like, for instance, polluting, which is a byproduct of driving. Motorist, therefore, should keep right on paying for our cycling spaces. (Frechette credits the New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg with this notion of taxing the bad stuff rather than the good stuff.)
But over at the New York Times, the Freakonomics folks say the measure is fair and that the fees that Krieger proposes – $54 every two years – are so low that “even a tax-hating bicyclist” should support it.
Indeed, some of the 28 (and counting) comments to Frechette’s blog say, essentially, “go ahead, tax me.” But along with that tax, these riders want bike lanes and sharrows (those quasi bike line markers that indicate to motorists that bikes and cars must share lanes) to be ubiquitous, and they want riding a bike to be a safer pursuit, with greater buffer zones between vehicles and bikes.
GOOD deputy editor Morgan Clendaniel says registering bikes might be the way to deal with increasing bike traffic. “If we want a large number of people to be biking, bikes will no longer be able to be the freewheeling mode of transportation they are now. Bikers will have to stop at lights, signal turns, etc. etc. And the police will have to stop and ticket those who don’t,” she writes.
But the field of opposing readers is much larger. Writes Staven: “A bike tax should only be considered if the majority of the city’s transportation is going to be using that method (to provide services such as bike racks, lanes, etc) – otherwise it’s a horrible idea. I drive or walk, and I say tax cars for supporting bike lanes.”
More people on bikes, and therefore fewer in cars, would make roads last longer, argues another. Cyclists, therefore, should be rewarded, not taxed for riding. And aren’t most – or at least, many – adult cyclists also motorists and therefore already paying for the roads and bike lanes on which they ride?
Perhaps the most centrist view comes from reader “masbury,” who takes the middle lane: “There’s a precedent that could suggest another effective route. Many vehicles are taxed by weight – heavy trucks, for instance. The logic behind that mode is simple: heavy vehicles cause more road deterioration, thus more taxpayer expense. So why not extend weight-based taxation to all vehicles? For indeed, not only do we want bikes on the road, we also want to prefer lighter vehicles of all types; they cause more road and environmental damage…”
A much easier financial pill to shallow would be an excise tax on all new bike sales. That’s the route that Colorado Springs chose, way back in 1988. It levies a $4 fee on each bike sold in the city, but then uses that money specifically for improving the biking infrastructure. This means that only those buying new bikes pay the fee, which seems fair, and it avoids the huge program fees that would come with charging ongoing licensing and registration fees.
(Want more on the topic? Here’s the full bill, and an interview with Krieger on BikePortland.org.)

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▼▼▼      9 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Jen Boynton

    excellent post. I’d gladly pay a tax in exchange for being a bit safer on the road via better bike lanes. Love the pic!

  • Nick Aster

    I don’t have a problem with paying a small amount to support better bike infrastructure but I wonder if there might be a better way? It seems like a big hassel to try and track down riders and tag their bikes somehow with a license. What about people from out of town? I feel like the police have better things to do than run around pulling over bikes and checking their license.
    For now, I think people should be rewarded for biking and that bike lanes and other infrastructure should come out of the general fund. If we ever become Copenhagen, then we can talk about other fees because at that point it’ll start being reasonable.

  • john

    No way should cyclists pay!!!
    1) Bikes are heavy like cars and do not damage the road like a car does.
    2) Most of these cyclists are taxpayers and already paid for the infrastructure through their property tax.
    3) Cycling is pollution free. Why should anything that is pollution free be taxed!
    So, could the stupid people of the world please shut up!

  • http://www.globalwarmingisreal.com/blog Tom

    Go John!
    Great post…

  • http://www.artformfunction.com Michaelc

    If you compare the amount of road wear that a 40lb bike creates vs a 3500lb car it is pretty clear that the proposed tax is too high. The bike tax should be 1/87th of the car tax as 40 is 1/87th of 3500.
    You can also safely ride 4 bikes in the space of a large car, so clearly it not only wears the roads less, but makes better use of them (since most cars carry single occupants). One other advantage that is seldom mentioned is how biking solves the parking problem by fitting 7 or 8 bikes in one car parking space, and people taking bikes off the street entirely into their offices and homes.

  • keri

    i love my bicycle and support most initiatives that advocate for a more free-wheel friendly world. however, this measure sounds my “are you serious?” alarm. it sounds more like a cry from the people that think we are getting some free ride because we don’t pay registration fees like vehicle owners do. lets remember that some of us (me) started riding because we couldn’t afford the bloated expenses of owning a vehicle. and i don’t ever remember asking to live in a car dominated society but that doesn’t keep a majority of the taxes i pay going toward roads used primarily by cars. i could support a “tax” such as the one cited by MC in the city of CO Springs where the money is used to fund cycling initiatives and can be tracked. the logic for implementing the law is pretty negative- we can ticket the bad guys and track people on bikes! lets stop being such downers government! focus on the positive and lets just get people on bikes. taxing them sure isnt the way to do it.

  • dot

    Due to the car-centric world we live in, we need to do everything possible to get people on bikes! NO TAXES ON BIKES!!!!!

  • Dave Wilson

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  • Sam

    What next …. pedestrians to pay for footpaths?

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