While governments in many countries are incentivising the uptake of cycling, Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy two weeks ago asked a written parliamentary question about “road tax in order to enhance ownership and traceability of e-vehicles”. Although, a spokesperson for Murphy said: “It doesn’t represent our policy position”.
IrishCycle.com understands that the background to the question is that the Social Democrats have been at least somewhat influenced by a small number of people who are spreading anti-cycling rhetoric and disinformation.
There was a strong reaction by campaigners and members of the public online to the use of the phrase “road tax”, which has long been abolished. Motorists pay motor tax, which mostly relates to environmental emissions from cars and other vehicles.
The idea of taxing bicycles has been studied previously by government officials in different countries — it has been deemed to make little sense given the cost of administration vs the likely income from such a tax. Campaigners also point out that the proportional damage done to roads by cars means that if a tax for bicycles was set at something like €50, then the fair and proportional rate for motorists would be thousands of euro.
Such a tax makes even less sense now given governments are rushing to give incentives, such as reduced VAT rates on bicycles, State-backed low-interest loans and grants to get people to use bicycles for health and environmental reasons.
In a written parliamentary question, Murphy, a TD for Kildare, asked the Minister for Transport “his plans to make electric scooters and e-bikes liable for road tax in order to enhance ownership and traceability of e-vehicles that will use public roads; and if he has consulted with the Revenue Commissioners in this regard.”
A separate parliamentary question asked by the same TD, it was asked if the Minister has consulted with “vehicle insurance providers in respect of providing full and third party cover for e-scooter and e-bike users in advance of the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 being enacted.”
The responses came from the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton. Minister Naughton said that it is the Government’s intent in the drafting of the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 to exclude electric scooters and normal-speed electric bicycles from the requirements of motor vehicles such as insurance, motor tax, and a licence.
The junior minister added that “higher-powered models”, the motors of which operate above 25km/h, “which can be type-approved, will be classed as mechanically propelled vehicles.” These types of bikes, which are called “speed pedelec”, operate at between 25km/h and 45km/h.
Minister Naughton said: “Higher-powered e-bikes will be required to be registered, taxed and insured. Users will require a driver’s licence and the relevant rules of the road for mopeds and motorbikes will apply. This change will ensure that e-cyclists who do not wish to be capped at 25 km/h and prefer to opt for a more powerful model will have the necessary legal structures in place to do so, and that risks to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians are managed by removing these faster vehicles from pedestrianised zones and cycle lanes.”
In reply to questions from IrishCycle.com, a spokesperson for Deputy Murphy said that the questions were “submitted on behalf of a constituent that made a request to the office” and “It doesn’t represent our policy position. “
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The spokesperson said: “The context is that they had concerns in relation their own personal safety as a result of some users of that kind of vehicle being used locally on footpaths.”
Murphy did not respond to further questions, such as if her questions related to e-bikes which are restricted to 25km/h or more powerful ones, and, if the question on tax relates to safety, could she please explain how tax enhances safety.
Reacting on Twitter yesterday to the parliamentary questions, Dave Tobin, vice-chairperson of Cyclist.ie, an umbrella group of most cycling campains, said: “Very disappointing push to tax users of e-scooters and e-bikes from Social Democrats especially considering their excellent cycling manifesto at the last Genral Election. We’re in a climate crisis and need to incentivise as much non-car use as possible. This is an incredibly regressive step.”
This morning, Tobin added: “Had a very positive chat this morning with Social Democrats HQ on cycling issues. Looking forward to meeting in a few weeks time to discuss a range of cycling issues with Cyclist.ie.”
Conn Donovan, chairperson of the Cork Cycling Campaign said: “It’s 100% unacceptable for a TD to use the term ‘road tax’. What hope do we have of kicking this misleading term (vehicles pay motor tax based on emissions) to the sidelines when law makers use it in the Dáil?”