In the Battle for Social Domination of the Roads, Oregon Imposes a Bike Tax

CC BY 2.0. Wikipedia/ or Another Believer

Because cyclists should pay their fair share, right?

In her thesis Exploring Drivers’ Attitudes and Behaviors toward Bicyclists, Tara Goddard noted that “the roadway is a battle ground for social domination, rather than just access to physical space.” And in the supposedly bike-friendly state of Oregon, the drivists are once again showing who is in charge; they have just passed a law putting a $15 tax on bike sales.

Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland wonders why “we are taxing the healthiest, most inexpensive, most environmentally friendly, most efficient, and most economically sustainable form of transportation ever devised by the human species.”

bike tax

Bill via BIke Portland/Public Domain

A Senator who supported the bike tax repeated the usual claim that is made everywhere -- that bikes do not pay anything for the road when drivers do. “They felt that bicycles ought to contribute to the system, bicycle owners ought to contribute to the system.”

But as Angie Schmitt writes on Streetsblog,

The accusation that people who ride bikes don’t pay for roads is familiar to anyone who’s tried to argue for bike infrastructure in a public setting. Never mind that biking puts almost zero strain on the road network compared to driving, that people who bike also pay a variety of taxes that do fund roads, and that drivers don’t cover the full cost of car infrastructure by a long shot. It’s all about resentment.

Indeed, drivers do not begin to cover the costs imposed by parking bylaws (subsidized by everyone who doesn’t drive), medical or policing costs, or externalized costs of pollution and CO2. But then it isn’t about being rational; it is just another measure to make biking more expensive and less popular so they are not taking road space from cars.

Laura Bliss of Citylab notes other ways that the tax could hurt the bike business; the tax kicks in on bikes priced over $200.

Besides dissuading some potential buyers entirely, the $15 tax on costly bikes could compel others to buy lower-priced products from big-box stores, or avoid the tax entirely by shopping for used rides on Craigslist. That means local bike shops are likely to be hit hardest.

Bliss also quotes Danish transportation researcher Soren Have: “Not even in Denmark where we tax *everything* do we have such [a thing].”

The state promises that the money raised will be used for bike infrastructure, and it probably isn’t as bad as other methods used to discourage cycling, such as licensing or mandatory helmet laws. They say it will raise $1.1 million clear of collection costs. But some of that money raised might be offset if too many people are put off from biking and drive instead, which costs everybody.