Should Cyclists Pay to Use The Roads?
One angry motorist (bigot) wrote: I am fed up with the people who
ride bicycles. . . . AND THEY DON'T PAY ONE DIME OF FEES TO PAY FOR ANYTHING.
Ever see how much a car owner pays in registration fees and gas tax?
argument, that cyclists don't pay taxes, is an old one. It is a big
It's based on the
idea that all expenditures for roads come from registration fees and gas
taxes. Actually, the idea of linking gas tax receipts to road-building
is a fairly recent one, starting with the funding for the interstate system.
Since then, politicians have discovered that people would support
new gasoline taxes if the money was dedicated to paying for road building and improvements.
But local, state, and federal governments have been funding massive projects
for years based on whatever money was available to them. Money from
other sources has always gone into road and bridge construction, and money
from motor vehicle fees and taxes has always gone wherever it was needed.
If we take this
idea seriously that only those who pay gasoline taxes can use the roads,
then we are going to live in a very odd world. Grade schools will
have to be funded entirely from taxes on candy and toys, libraries from
taxes on books and magazines, and police from taxes on guns and home security
devices. People from one town won't be able to use any public services
in another town, and foreign visitors will be out of luck altogether.
But the simple
truth is that taxes are taxes. You pay a tax on your car, not because
you drive it somewhere nor because the tax gives you any privilege to do anything,
but just because the car is an expensive piece of property, just like your house.
You pay a tax on gasoline just as you pay a tax on anything else you buy,
and the tax on gas is higher for the same reason that that taxes on tobacco
and alcohol are higher: their use creates a greater expense for the community.
Motor vehicles tear up the roads, and bicycles do not; they pollute the air, and
bicycles do not; they require heavy structures and large parking areas, and
bicycles do not. There is no reason why every cent collected from automobiles
should be spent to encourage their use. We don't do that with any other tax.
Actually, we don't
recover all the costs of our motor vehicles through taxes on them anyway.
The taxes collected approximate the costs of the federal highways and some
of the state highways, but can't also cover the cost of county roads and
city streets. In addition, motor vehicles taxes don't begin to cover
the indirect and hidden costs of automobile use, which include: 1) indirect
construction costs and problems caused by the roads, 2) maintenance, 3)
the costs and problems of providing parking spaces for the vehicles, 4)
police, fire, and emergency assistance, 5) local and global health problems
caused by pollution, 6) health problems created by lack of exercise and
by auto accidents, and 7) global warming and other long-term adverse effects.
Everyone pays these costs, whether in taxes or otherwise, motor vehicle
user or not. See the sources in the right column for further details.
And, of course,
this argument ignores that fact that most cyclists are motorists also.
This argument kind
of parallels two others: 1) cyclists shouldn't be allowed on the road because
they haven't had to pass a driving test, and 2) cyclists don't have to
obey the traffic laws, for the same reason.
This argument falls
into a class that I've never seem mentioned under fallacies, yet it should
be because I encounter it all the time; for instance, if you're not a woman,
you can't say anything about gender issues. You never smoked pot?
Then you can't speak out against using drugs. We might call it the
exclusionary fallacy. This fallacy is halfway true (as most fallacies
are). Men, of course, have never had firsthand experience at being
women or at having babies. But if men really can't say anything worthwhile
about women, why do most women go to male gynecologists and male psychologists?
Having smoked pot gives you some insight, but it hardly makes you an expert.
Here the idea is
that there are two types of people in the world, motorists and cyclists,
and the motorists are being treated unfairly, poor things.
The roads in the
United States are Public Roads. You do
not have to pay any taxes at all to use them. You do not have to buy a
license or pass a test either. You can walk, you can ride a horse,
you can drive a buggy, and you can drive a farm tractor legally in every
state without paying one red cent. On the other hand, owners of automobiles,
trucks, and motorcycles are required to pass driving tests and to buy licenses.
Why? These vehicles cause a lot of deaths
and get stolen frequently. The government wants the operators carefully
trained and their accidents recorded, and it wants to help them recover
stolen vehicles. If cyclists were killing a lot of motorists, the
government would go to the trouble of training and licensing them too.
The answer to our
bigot's comments is that he doesn't have to pay any taxes or fees or take any test
at all. He is free to ride a bicycle. Or, at his choice, he can drive
his car wherever he wants, just as long as he stays on his own property.