COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Back in July we published an article titled 6 problems with “Cyclists should have to pay road tax”, however the sporting/sportif cycling website Stickybottle.com has a different view which it published yesterday.
It argues that a “road tax” for cycling could amount to a “change of status” giving cyclists some kind of unexplained extra right to be on the roads, that it would “strengthen the cycling lobby”, and that it would lead to “improved facilities” — but there’s too many fatal flaws in the article.
Paying, “just like everybody else”
Stickybottle.com argues that if cyclists paid a “road tax” that “We would have paid to be there, just like everyone else,” but this just isn’t the case.
There is no such thing as road tax. The amount that motorists pay does not cover all the direct, hidden and external costs of motoring and the impact that mass motoring has on society, the economy, human health, and the environment.
The costs extend way beyond road building and maintenance. There’s also obvious external costs such as pollution, noise pollution, road deaths, roads policing, planning, encouraging one-off housing etc. There is a lot of denial about the extent of the health cost of motoring — from inactivity to particulate matter pollution — none of which are going away with electric cars.
But the costs of mass-motoring extends far further — every park, public and private building etc built or extended usually needs more parking — it’s why there was the recent Department of Housing plan to remove minimum parking space number for apartments gained far wider approval than most of the department’s other suggestions.
If you had enough time on your hands and a qualification in forensic accounting, you’d be years researching the costs motoring has on everything from councils to the Department of Education, the OPW, Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection etc etc etc.
Danish researchers found that car trips cost society €0.15 per km, while cycling trips earn society €0.16 per km (due to factors such as health savings).
Not practical, and it just would not make any sense
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Adding tax to the point of sale was one suggestion. “What if ‘road tax’ was, for example, added to the cost of all adult-sized bikes sold in Ireland?” the article ponders.
I don’t know how to put this other than say that it would be daft for a Government to add a tax to bicycles when cycling is getting a tax break (via the Cycle to Work scheme) to encourage cycling.
With the Cycle to Work scheme still in place this would add a double unfairness to those who can’t access or don’t benefit from the Cycle to Work scheme (ie the low-paid, employees of any companies that just don’t run the optional scheme, students, the unemployed, the retired etc).
If anything, Ireland needs to follow the lead of Sweden which is giving a grant of up to 25% of an electric bicycle up to around €1,000 — a similar grant for electric cargo bikes exists in Oslo, while a lower one can be found in France.
Adding bicycles to the motor tax system would be even greater folly. But let’s just run with Stickybottle.com’s idea and that brings us to arguments that don’t fit together.
“The tax could all be paid in one chunk or perhaps paid in instalments over a number of years,” Stickybottle.com argues. They don’t explain how this would be done, but the “easy” way to do this is add bicycles to the motor tax system, rather than creating whole new system.
The electric motor cycle tax rate is €35 per year. A normal bicycle would have to be charged under that rate or at the most around that rate. The article doesn’t give an amount but around or under the electric motor cycle rate would fit with them saying “One assumes the tax would be very minor”.
Now that in turn is a problem — the low amount undermines two of what seems to be central arguments of the article that (a) paying a “road tax” would gain respect and (b) that it would help improve infrastructure.
The argument from people that “cyclists don’t pay road tax” would just switch to “cyclists don’t pay an equal level of road tax”, thus they don’t have an equal “right” to use the roads.
All of this ignores that fact that even if the “road tax” argument didn’t exist, motorists or others who have issues with cyclists or cycling would still have those issues. They would just use different arguments.
But it would improve infrastructure, right?
As for the improvement of infrastructure — that argument fails on two fronts. Motorcyclists pay but are hardly provided for and rural motorists pay but are left with often sub-standards roads (they don’t pay half enough compared to the extra millage, especially rural dwellers who work in towns and cities).
The link between funding and an improvement in infrastructure is a poor one regardless. Without an improvement in standards and mindsets, we will continue to get sub-standard infrastructure even as funding is increased.
“It would strengthen the cycling lobby”
Stickybottle.com says: “Any group of road users paying a fee to be on the roads would have effectively bought their way to the negotiating table when transport budgets and policies were being set. That would strengthen the hand of the cycling lobby. At present very few policy makers truly see the health and transport benefits cycling could bring.”
This is basically saying let’s ditch some of the most powerful arguments for cycling just to make a token gesture to people who mostly have illogical reasons for disliking cycling.
It also takes a far too pessimistic view of policy makers and lacks an understanding of the realpolitik reality that even good things have to be fought for on an on-going basis.
What is termed as “bikelash” happens elsewhere and it is likely that such “public hatred of biking culture is actually a natural part of its evolution into the mainstream”, as outline on CityLab.
In our experience the opponents of cycling are usually just more vocal than the majority who are generally supportive but need a bit of a nudge. More and more politicians and others open up to cycling as they are shown or see the benefits.
“Road tax” for cycling fails on all grounds
Let’s just be clear on this: The road tax arguments fail on all logical grounds. Bicycle tax as outlined by Stickybottle.com would be a tokenistic gesture to people who will never be satisfied by such a gesture.
As this website concluded earlier in the year: If you’re still not convinced, you probably have an irrational problem with cycling. An add-on to that is that it’s wishful thinking to think that those people will change their minds based on tokenistic gestures.
Some people need to accept the idea that some of their friends, family and colleagues who use “road tax” arguments — however calm and reasonable they seem — are still as illogical as radio host George Hook or a random motorist who rants about tax after they nearly knock you down.