Almost daily, I read comments in various papers and blogs by drivers who demand that cyclists pay their way. These comments usually include suggestions that we license and register cyclists and bicycles, and charge taxes or user fees of some kind. This morning, I read one in the Richmond Times Dispatch, my local paper. In recent weeks, the RTD editorial page has included some very thoughtful pieces from the paper’s editor in chief, Tom Silvestri, and others. Perhaps in response, this morning’s paper included a Letter to the Editor from a Mr. James. I seized upon the opportunity to enlighten this reader, and perhaps a few others.
Mr. James– as the saying goes, facts are stubborn things.
1. Roads are only partially paid for by vehicle and fuel related taxes. The rest comes from general state and local taxes, or bonds, which are paid off with such taxes.
2. Cyclists pay sales tax when they buy bikes and anything related to bikes.
3. Most cyclists own cars and pay fuel and vehicle taxes. Many own homes and pay property tax as well.
4. When cyclists ride instead of drive on the roads that they are already paying for, they do much less damage, resulting in lower maintenance costs.
5. When cyclists ride instead of drive, they reduce demand for imported oil, which comes at a high cost in human life and national treasure (as evidenced by the last two decades of continuous wars which are at least in part the result of our need for oil from the Middle East).
6. When cyclists ride instead of drive we do not need to expand or build the roads as much, and taxes can be reduced or spent on better things than paving our scenic countryside.
7. When cyclists ride instead of drive, they reduce the need for parking at their destination. Parking is extremely expensive, even when it is “Free.” Read “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Prof. Donald Shoup. You can get it at Amazon.
8. When cyclists ride instead of drive, they reduce congestion, resulting in shorter travel times for drivers, and less fuel wasted in traffic jams. See #5 above.
9. When cyclists ride instead of drive, they are healthier, and so is everyone else, reducing the cost of healthcare, regardless of who is paying.
10. When cyclists ride instead of drive, they reduce the CARnage on our roadways that claims almost 40 thousand lives every year, the equivalent of crashing a fully loaded 737 airliner every day, 365 days a year.
11. When cities incorporate cycling into their transportation planning, more people ride and fewer drive. In Portland, 8% of all commuters now ride their bikes, up from less than 1% in less than 20 years. That’s a dramatic reduction in driving. (See http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/44671 )
So, Mr. James, by all means, let’s license all bikes and cyclists, and track their use of the roads, mile by mile and PAY THEM to ride. And while we are at it, let’s license all those recreational shoes and pedestrians too. And finally, let’s think seriously about taxing drivers for the true full cost of their transportation choices, which are heavily subsidized by any measure. We can’t have any freeloaders using our precious asphalt now can we.