Thu, 29 May 2008

Do cyclists pay their way?

Every Wednesday evening, I meet a group of fellow cyclists at our local bike shop for a ride. (We have a Facebook group. If you're in the area on any Wednesday evening, we'd love to have you along.)

Last night, as we gathered, we exchanged stories about some run-ins with motorists. Three or four in the group had ridden on the Palouse, Sunday, and encountered an angry, local motorist. He went off on them, red-faced, bulge-eyed, screaming, "You don't belong on the road. Cyclists don't pay their fair share of the taxes and fees!"

It's an argument we hear often, but before I address the validity of his assertion, let me address how I think it is best to respond. A heated argument with a motorist is probably counter productive. You're not likely to sway his opinion. An automobile is a lethal weapon when controlled by an enraged motorist. For your safety, you want to be as far away from him as possible and as soon as possible.

It is probably best to say, "I'm sorry to trouble you. I'll be on my way and won't be on this road any longer than I have to."

If you can safely and calmly say more, you might say, "I understand your concern, but you are talking about how things should be. Currently, the law gives me a legal right to ride on the road and I'm exercising that right. If you don't agree with the law you need to contact your legislators and lobby to have it changed."

This topic has been discussed at length, online, and a quick Google search will give you plenty of material to read. I found the exchange in the comments of this BlueOregon post interesting. TR, the anti-cyclist poster at least states his position articulately, so it is a good source for the argument that bicycles and cyclists should be taxed.

However, I think TR and the irate Palouse motorist my fellow cyclists encountered this past weekend are dead wrong. Cyclists do pay their fair share. The post titled Cyclists Pay Their Fair Share! on the Saint Louis Regional Bicycle Federation site is a thorough argument supporting that view.

According to the statistics cited there, 92% of the funds for local roads and transportation infrastructure come from property, income, and sales taxes. Cyclists are taxed no differently in that regard than motorists. The remaining 8% comes from user fees. Most cyclists own automobiles. So they pay the same vehicle registration and licensing fees all motorists pay. About the only fee they do not pay is the fuel tax.

Riding a bicycle reduces congestion. It increases the lifetime of existing infrastructure because it has a negligible impact on the road surface. It decreases demand on the fuel supply which directly benefits motorists with lower fuel costs.

And there are many indirect benefits. Joe Johnson, a very good friend of mine and an avid cyclist once told me about a discussion he had with a co-worker who was trying to make the case that cyclists don't pay their way. The co-worker was an overweight diabetic, his condition quite likely due to, or at least exacerbated by his lifestyle and lack of exercise. Joe is the picture of health.

Let's not talk about the gasoline tax, Joe said, "Let's talk about health insurance premiums. We both pay the same amount. Why should I pay the same amount you do when you refuse to ride a bike or do any sort of exercise to maintain your health?"

Cyclists not only pay their way, they reduce costs for other road users, too.

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