Scots Government cycle tax idea abandoned

Proposal dropped after hostile reaction

The idea of a 'road tax' on cyclists, floated by Scottish Government civil servants last month, appears to have been abandoned almost immediately.

The idea was mooted towards the end of a draft Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS), released for public consultation, that aimed to ensure that by 2020 10 percent of all journeys in Scotland would be by bike. The consultation has just closed.

Section 7 of the document, entitled 'Legal Powers', asked: "Should all road users pay road tax? If so, how much should it be for cyclists and how could it be enforced?"

Sceptics have suggested the cyclists' tax idea could be tied to Scotland's increasing national debt. A leaked document recently revealed that civil servants are planning for the government to introduce a five percent cut in public sector spending, as well as possible tax increases, to bring the country's finances under control.

Public finance expert Richard Kerley said that if a tax on cyclists was ever to be introduced it would require the registration of all bicycles and the introduction of a 'bicycle log book' for riders.

Professor Kerley, the vice-principal of QueenMargaretUniversity in Edinburgh, said: "Cyclists aren't exactly causing a lot of wear and tear, but if the government is seeking to increase taxation, it would be one way of doing it."

The backlash from cycling organisations and environmental groups was strong and immediate. Gary Bell of Spokes, the 1,000-strong Scottish cycling pressure group, said: "Many cycle owners already pay road tax because they own a car. This document is trying to increase the number of cyclists and here they are constructing a barrier to prevent people getting a bicycle. It is utterly laughable."

Green Party leader Patrick Harvie also voiced the strength of feeling against the proposal, saying: "If the SNP (the leading Scottish National Party) actually try to impose this absurd tax, then the non-payment campaign will be immediate and unstoppable."

Peter Hayman, a CAPS board member and the Scottish representative of CTC, the UK's national cyclists' organisation, claimed the tax suggestion was added to the paper without his knowledge.

"I think this went in after we saw the final draft," he said. "The board saw the guts of the document, then the Scottish Government people put it together with some extra quotes, which we never saw.

"I don't think it should have been there because it distracts from the real question, which is: how do you get more people cycling?"

Faced with such reaction it appears that the Scottish Government backpedalled rapidly. A spokeswoman said: "Scottish ministers have no plans to charge cyclists for using the roads in Scotland."

John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance & Sustainable Growth (potentially responsible for implentation of such a policy), also flatly ruled out any such move.

Switzerland is one country that already requires tax and registration of cycles. The cycling 'vignette' costs 5 Swiss francs a year and includes road tax and third party cycling insurance.

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