On February 20th, Washington state lawmakers proposed a $10 billion transportation bill. Inside the bill is a $25 tax on new bicycle purchases that has been the focus of much debate.
Yup, a $25 "sales fee," in addition to existing sales tax, on any new bike over $500. Why? Because some think, "cyclists need to pay their fair share for road maintenance."
The tax is being called "symbolic" by bike advocates and the very people who are proposing it. Even the bill's architect has said she doesNOT support the tax. We agree it's symbolic: symbolic of how misguided our current transportation policies are.
So how is a Washington state transportation bill, that has no chance of becoming law, relevant to you? Because it's indicative of a larger problem, and part of deceptive dialogue about road rights and spending. Follow us down this rabbit hole.
Roads pay for themselves through user fees on cars and gas, and therefore bicyclists don't pay their fair share toward road maintenance.
User fees don't sustain roads. All public roadways are heavily subsidized by taxpayers, regardless of use.
Who Pays For Roads?
The national average from taxes and fees on cars is 50.7%. The other 49.3% comes from a host of sources that nearly ALL taxpayers contribute to: property tax, income tax, sales tax, public transit fares, bonds and so on. So, part of your rent? Roads. The sales tax on your iPhone? Roads. Your bus ticket? Roads.
Who Benefits From Cycling?
Everyone. Literally everyone. Cycling reduces road congestion, which should make drivers happy. Cyclists are better customers, spending on average more money locally than drivers, which should make businesses happy. Cycling reduces major health problems like obesity and heart disease, which makes riders happy, as well as the taxpayers who have to subsidize health care costs.
Cycling in fact even makes your city money. Copenhagen, the worlds preeminent cycling city, estimates that every mile traveled by bicycle saves the city 42 cents in health care and transportation costs among other things, while every mile traveled by car costs the city 20 cents.
Why Is This The Worst Idea Ever?
This proposed fee represents a barrier to cycling. It's a financial bar that anyone interested in cycling has to hurdle. As we just demonstrated above, cars can't afford to pay for roads, and neither can our planet. We should be encouraging alternatives, like transit and cycling, not taxing those who wish to make the switch.
People drive because our cities and suburbs have prioritized driving, at the expense of so much else, for decades. It's long past time to accept that system is not sustainable. Mobility does not belong to the motorist. It's paid for and relied upon by all of us.