COMMENT & ANALYSIS: The idea that people cycling a bicycle should have to pay “road tax” is common in media commentary in the UK and Ireland, but it is wrong. Here’s six reasons why:
1. There’s no such thing as “road tax”
If you’re paying “road tax” you’re being scammed. You should report the scam to your local Garda or police station, and then contact Revenue or HM Revenue & Customs as soon as possible to pay them your unpaid Motor Tax or Vehicle Excise Duty (we’ll just refer to both as motor tax).
2. Why tax something with so many benefits and only minor negatives?
Why would you tax cycling? Cycling is good for the mental and physical health of individuals and has cost savings for the health services.
When more people cycle rather than use cars there’s a reduction in air pollution, including pollution which has an impact on the public health and on climate change. There’s also a reduction of noise pollution, which makes places more pleasant and reduces the mental health effects of noise.
When investment is made in safe and attractive cycling networks for all ages and abilities, the above benefits are amplified and there’s added benefits such as freedom of mobility for everyone, from children to teenagers to people with limited mobility who can use cycle paths.
3. Motoring taxes do not cover all of the costs of motoring
Motoring taxes — motor tax and fuel taxes — are not ring-fenced for road building. But even if they were, the taxes would not cover all of the direct and external costs of motoring. Some evaluations of motor tax vs national spending on roads have some years shown that motorists pay their way, but these are simplistic and, for example, do not cover all road construction and maintenance by local councils or all state subsiding of motoring, from social welfare to staff and political travel allowances.
The cost of motoring does not stop at building roads. External costs include the cost of congestion, the cost of injury and death from collisions, the cost of inactivity, the health costs of air and noise pollution, the environmental costs, poor planning and so on. An EU-wide study by the Dresden Technical University, which looked at 2008 data, put the price tag for just some of these external costs at €3 billion in Ireland and £48bn in the UK.
4. Most cyclists are motorists too
A Twitter poll by Cycling Ireland showed what most people who cycle know — most cyclists are also motorists. For commuting or leisure, when people choose to leave their cars at home for some journeys they are still paying the set fee for motor tax but have almost zero impact on wear and tear of the roads and lowering their position impact to zero also.
The truth is: as motoring tax does not pay for all the costs of motoring (see above), everybody pays for those costs via additional taxes such as property tax, VAT and other taxes.
5. Tax has no relationship to law breaking
Amazingly, the issue of cycling tax for road use is often brought up in conversations or media coverage of cyclists misbehaving or breaking the law. The problem with this is that law breaking is not offset by taxation — paying motor tax does not give motorists the entitlement to break speed limits or run red lights, and is certainly not a licence to kill or injure thousands of people a year.
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6. There’d be too many problems with a cycling tax
An electric car is taxed at a rate of €120 per year in Ireland (€35 for motor bikes) and £0 in the UK. Under the current system based on emissions, a bicycle owner using their bicycle on our roads would be due to be pay €0 in road usage tax based on emissions.
If the whole system was changed to one based on likely damage to roads (ie the weight of a vehicle etc), then bicycles would still be rated at so close to €0 that it doesn’t matter.
A nominal tax amount, like €/£5 to €/£30, would likely hardly cover the administrative and policing effort needed or have very little left over. And once you get the police involved you have to ask: What age of child will the police be enforcing a tax on? If there’s a cut-off point, what is it? And how do children under that age prove their age?
If you’re still not convinced, you probably have an irrational problem with cycling
Please, do yourself a favour: Realise it’s irrational (bicycles do far more good than harm) and then get over it.