The Best Bicycle Tax: A Street Utility Fee

I suppose it was entirely predictable…

City Club issued its report last week “No Turning Back: A City Club Report on Bicycle Transportation in Portland” – basically concluding that bicycles are now part of the urban transportation fabric and need to be thoroughly integrated into our transportation planning process, with a focus on education and safety.

But the press focused in on just one recommendation: a 4% state-wide excise tax on the sale of new bicycles to help fund education, safety programs, and measurement.

In fact, it took about two seconds for one online publication to put up a poll on whether a 4% tax for bicycle infrastructure was a good idea or not, completely twisting the message.

The Oregonian waited a whole week to oppose the tax, on the grounds that it was asking the whole state to pay for “Portland’s bike challenges”.

But the Oregonian did make an important point: cyclists are not getting a free ride, they pay for the street system as much as drivers do (in fact, most of them are drivers).

So what’s a cycling advocate supposed to think about this? In general we like the report, a lot!

But key activists are NOT rallying to oppose the tax (although we suspect it’s going nowhere fast). If cyclists are going to be taxed, it should be a tax that does not act as a barrier to trying cycling, as a license or registration fee would be. And even if we already have “skin in the game” for funding the street system, it would be helpful to have that abundantly clear to citizens at-large. And safety and education programs are critical and enjoy widespread support among cycling advocates.

But my own preference would be a completely different approach. We are dramatically underfunding our transportation system and that’s going to need to change soon. I’d like the approach to be a street utility fee (paid like a water or sewer bill, based on the trips your property helps generate). The beauty of this approach is that it’s mode-neutral. We ALL pay for the transportation system whether we walk, bike, drive or take transit. What could be fairer than that?

23 Responses to The Best Bicycle Tax: A Street Utility Fee