Taxing and licensing bicycles to support the construction of bike-friendly infrastructure projects such as painting bike lanes and constructing bike paths is an idea that has been floated numerous times and with varying degrees of success.
Is a tax or licensing program a good way to fund the development of bike-friendly infrastructure or an unfair burden on cyclists?
Let’s explore a few of the pros and cons of such systems as put forth by fellow cyclists (not angry motorists) and then hear your thoughts.
Reasons to favor a bike tax/licensing program
Money talks: taxing gives cyclists a voice
A tax on the sale of new bikes and accessories will put cyclists on an equal footing with motorists by demonstrating that we also pay for road maintenance and the construction of bike lanes.
It will ensure cyclists have a seat at the table and gives us more power to lobby for bike-friendly improvements.
Licensing lends legitimacy
Licensing bikes gives them a sense of "vehicular equity" with cars and motorcycles. This will make bikes seems less like toys and more like vehicles with a right to the road.
A licensing program can also benefit cyclists by giving municipalities an easy way to track the popularity of cycling, which will have a positive impact on urban planning.
A bicycle tax is easy advocacy
Local and national bike advocacy organizations spend an excessive amount of time seeking funding through grants and membership drives.
A small tax on the sale of new bicycles and accessories could allow these organizations to focus less on fundraising, and more on education, urban planning and other projects.
More money for cycling is a good thing
Rather than relying on the fluctuation of money from a general fund, having money earmarked for cycling will provide a consistent revenue stream for cycling-related projects.
Reasons against a bike tax
Cyclists already pay their fair share
Most infrastructure improvement projects are funded through sales, income and property taxes, creating an additional "bicycle tax” will tax cyclists twice.
Every member of society pays for projects that don’t directly benefit them, so why should cycling be any different?
A tax on bike sales has zero correlation to usage
A tax on gasoline has a direct correlation with how much a person uses their vehicle — the more you drive, the more you pay. This sliding scale of taxation makes sense in instances where fuel taxes are used to fund the construction and maintenance of roadways (which is not always the case).
A tax on the purchase of a bicycle has no correlation to actual use. People who ride every day would pay very little, while casual riders who might ride once or twice a month would pay a lot relative to how often they ride. Mountain bikers and those who ride on gravel might not benefit at all from such a tax.
A bike tax stifles healthy living
A bike tax is a sin tax in reverse. It penalizes an activity that promotes physical and mental well-being. At a time when obesity and illnesses related to sedentary lifestyles are on the rise, we should make cycling more approachable, not less.
Furthermore, promoting cycling over driving is good for the environment.
If anything, cycling should be subsidized, not taxed.
Bike-funded improvement projects benefit other users
If we’re going to tax bikes, shouldn’t we also tax running shoes, jogging strollers, dog leashes, etc.? After all, it’s not just cyclists who benefit from the development of bike paths.
Over to you: what do you think?
Are you in favor of bicycle taxation/licensing programs or do you think they’re a bad idea? Share your thoughts in the comments section.