[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: Should Cyclists Be Paid to Use the Road?
Should cyclists receive payment as part of pollution trading? Cyclists reduce health costs, parking costs, and global warming and it seems logical to encourage their efforts.

What is pollution trading and what is its connection to global warming? Why couldn't cyclists receive pollution credits as well? Won't the fees from pollution ruin the polluting companies? Is pollution getting better or worse and why? Does bicycling remove pollution? Large corportations are already swapping pollution credits every day, why should cyclists be left out? What are the positive benefits of bicycling? How many people die from sedentary behavior, how many people need more exercise, and how much time do we spend traveling? What are the effects of automobile pollution? What would be the most effective ways to pay cyclists for riding their bikes? How could cyclists be paid for the health benefit of cycling? How could they be compensated for reducing parking costs? What effect on global warming does riding bike have? What would be a good scheme to compensate cyclists for mileage? What would be some other ways to spend global warming dollars? How many trees is riding a bike equivalent to? How could cyclists be conpensated for saving parking at stores and for not adding to congestion? How could we use pollution credits to encourage solar homes?


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Should Cyclists Be Paid to Use the Road?

I started thinking about this topic when there was a discussion on National Public Radio, Morning Edition, December 17, 1997, about pollution trading. Basically, the idea is that if a company is pumping black smoke into the air and raw sewage into the water, instead of cleaning up its act, it can buy pollution credits from some already squeaky-clean company. Our government, which had already been using this policy for some years in the US, wanted the other governments at Kyoto, Japan, to accept this idea as a way to deal with global warming. In a way, this idea is an old one. During the middle ages, a rich king, living an immoral, sinful life, could always pay a poor priest, who was living a very moral, sinless life, to pray for him and absolve his sins.

Now, why not apply this to transportation as well? And to cycling in particular? We would figure out how much environmental damage each airplane, each tractor-trailer, each light truck, and each car is doing. Then, instead of the owners having to move the vehicles to zero pollution, the owners can just pay so many cyclists to ride their bikes.

I can see it now: the airplane taking off, leaving black clouds of smoke behind as it heads for NYC from LA. At the same time, the ticket agent is paying off a crowd of bicycle tourists who are going to make the same trip on their bicycles; in fact, there's more people pedaling from coast to coast that there are people flying.

It would be perfect for me; I could live the rest of my life doing what I love to do best. Of course, the pay would not be great, but I'd settle for $10 a day anytime.

Now, when I printed the above statements, some people took the suggestion literally, when I was actually being sarcastic and really wanting to demonstrate my disagreement with the idea of pollution trading.

One complaint was that the corporations couldn't bear the cost. It seems to me that if these polluters are dumping so much bad stuff into the air that it would ruin them to pay for the damage, then they ought to be ruined. But I don't think it's quite that bad -- anymore. However, run a search on the web under acid rain, ozone, and global warming, and it's easy to see that major problems remain and that some kinds of pollution are getting worse. After all, there are more people every year driving more cars and using more consumer products.

Another complaint was that having people ride bicycles wouldn't actually remove any pollution; however, if the people were already intending to make the trip, traveling by bike instead of by car would prevent creating a great deal of pollution. An average US passenger vehicle traveling 3,000 miles would burn over 150 gallons of gas and produce nearly 4,000 lbs. of CO2.

The whole idea of pollution trading seems very weird, I know, but it is already happening, and many examples are found on the web. It seems that the big guys are already swapping pollution credits every day. Why should big business get all the benefit and us little guys get nothing?

We know that one third of the people in the US are dying from a sedentary life, not from old age. We know that four people out of five would benefit from additional exercise, especially walking and cycling. We know that people all around the world spend 1.1 hours traveling each day whether walking to the village on a stony trail or driving into the city on a busy highway, and we know that 1.1 hours of cycling would provide the necessary health benefit. We know that over 40,000 people are killed and a million and a half injured each year in motor vehicle accidents. We know that we are pumping huge quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, almost one third of which comes from transportation. We know that CO2 was predicted to cause a greenhouse effect that would warm the earth, and we see obvious signs that such a warming is taking place. We know that forests and wild plants are endangered by ozone and oxides of nitrogen. We know that there have been massive oil spills. We know that our roads are congested no matter how many we build, and that building them is destructive of natural areas and of many communities. We know that massive amounts of space are given over to parking lots rather than to trees, plants, and birds. We know that the run-off from parking lots causes flooding. In short, we know of many ways in which automobile use is expensive and harmful.

Most people are willing to acknowledge these shortcomings of an automotive society, and most people are willing for others, at least, to travel by bicycle, but the power and status still belong to those who travel around in their powerful automobiles. Can anything be done to change this?

What if, as a modest change, cyclists were paid for riding their bikes? Since the number of cyclists is not that great, it would be no great fortune for the government to pay every cyclist who tore up his or her driver's license say $1,000 a year. However, I can think of two great reasons for not doing so: 1) It would raise resentment among motorists, instead of status, just as welfare has done. And 2) it would lead to a great deal of cheating.

However, if it was seen that cyclists were being paid to provide actual benefits or to reduce actual problems and if they were being paid directly in proportion to the amount of benefit/reduction that they were responsible for, wouldn't that raise their status?

My suggestion is also to not pay a lump sum but to pay as cyclists earn their value. In this way, those who travel very little by bike would get paid very little, and those who traveled quite a bit would get paid more. By paying separately for items, we reduce the risk of cheating, and we help make it possible for exercisers, walkers, and car-poolers to share in the profits whenever appropriate. Thus, cyclists would be rewarded for helping society, not for riding bicycles per se.

The three areas in which these paybacks can come are from the employer, on the road, and from the merchant.

One of the greatest benefits of cycling is the health benefit, and insurance premiums are usually paid through one's employer. Much research has proven that those who exercise 2,000 kCal or more a week have less heart disease, fewer strokes, less chance of diabetes, less lung disease, and less chance of being overweight. So, this reward should be passed on to cyclists (and others who can prove they exercise sufficiently) and allow them to pay lower health premiums. Probably the best way to discover if the health target has been met is by a couple of fitness tests each year. Of course, there would have to be a provision to insure the company didn't rule against anyone if exercise was prevented by accident or disease. By making this distinction between those who exercise and those who don't, the ones who don't exercise will be given an incentive to do so. The amount of money saved by cyclists ought to be substantial, perhaps even a cash refund, since employers pick up much of the insurance cost. There are already some companies providing small benefits for non-smokers and people who exercise, so we would just be extending an already good policy a little further.

Cycling to work should decrease the number of accidents over driving, so those who are not driving or riding in cars to work should get some smaller health cost reduction for that as well. However, this benefit needs more research and documentation before implementation.

Cycling to work ought to also increase the alertness and vigor of the cyclists, and perhaps there should be an incentive for this as well; however, if this benefit is already seen to be affecting promotions, perhaps the company needs to pay no extra amount. However, the company should be willing to go to as much trouble for its exercising employees as it is for the sedentary by providing showers for the former just as it provides coffee breaks for the later.

Cycling to work will also decrease the need for employee parking space, since 2,800 bikes will fit on the same land as 100 cars. I heard of parking spaces on parking decks costing as much as $20,000, while cars parked in lots take up valuable real estate. This amount will vary greatly from place to place. But at any rate, cyclists, walkers, and car-poolers ought to get a small repayment for not using that space and leaving it available for company use.

Cycling to work also avoids increasing the amount of CO2, oxides of nitrogen, and ozone in the air. While some cars are cleaner than others, they all produce CO2, about 25 pounds per gallon. The cost of dealing with CO2 has been estimated at $10 to $53 a ton, with the lowest figure being a little suspicious, since the next highest figure was $24. Since the average passenger vehicle produces eight tons of CO2 a year, this would amount to a cost of $80 to $425 a year (from 12¢ to 65¢ a gallon). That cost, once finally determined, could be added to the gasoline tax, and the cyclist could get a "refund" as a reward for not using a car. One problem lies in determining how much the cyclist actually rides. Here, the work place is handy, since about 1/3 of all mileage is to and from work. The employer could simply report the distance the employee had to drive (or this could be done by computer) and could also testify that the employee had indeed arrived by bike. Thus could be sent in with the W-2 form, and the worker could claim a tax credit, just like any other tax credit.

Other ways of claiming the additional mileage create more problems. In some places, motorists are charged by the mile for using certain highways by using magnetic strips placed under the car which identify who to bill (that way the car doesn't have to stop). On such a road, a magnetic strip on a bicycle could result in the cyclist receiving a small credit on the credit card. However, I would think the cost of equipping all roads in that manner would be excessive. However, since bike tires wear out at 2,000 miles and the amount of CO2 reduction would be worth from $13.33 to $70.67 for that distance (and this is figuring, very conservatively, that a mile of cycling equals a mile of driving), why not provide cyclists with free bike tires -- which wear out at 2,000 miles -- provided they can turn in worn tires in return? Then, this benefit could come through the bike dealer (we could do the same for chains, sprockets, brake shoes, and other parts that wear out as well if the larger amount of money was the correct figure). This collecting of bike tires would have a second value since unrecycled bike tires are the one environmental problem of bicycle travel. Some would argue against providing free tires, I am sure, because there is no proof that the bicycle travel actually replaces any car travel, other than the fact that the person couldn't be doing both at one time. If we use that strict of a definition, payments must be restricted to travel to and from work only, since those are the only miles we can prove are necessary. However, a great deal of driving is recreational or at least unnecessary, and since the same person would take two to four times as long to travel the same distance by bike, I think this kind of payment is justified. Perhaps the cyclist, in exchanging tires, would have to provide a non-driver's license as addition proof that the mileage was used for transportation.

Of course, this still leaves most of the pollution allowance untouched. Considering that there are 150 million passenger motor vehicles in the US and only about seven million cyclists who ride every day, the amount of money claimed would be small, with the bulk of the $12 to $64 billion left over each year. In comparison, one auto-centric writer claims our entire highway and interstate system, construction, maintenance, and enforcement cost less than $90 billion a year. It certainly would be important to spend most of this on tree planting and direct measures to absorb CO2; however, spending some of this money to promote cycling would also reduce CO2 production.  For instance, in places with a high volume of cyclists likely, why not a bicycle interstate with a roof to protect against rain? Not only would this highway be much cheaper to construct than a conventional highway, but it could also carry more people as well.

Someone is bound to claim that cyclists don't deserve the pollution credit since they don't remove the pollution, they only avoid making it. Actually, pollution that is not produced is much less of a problem than pollution that is. In the case of CO2, for instance, one method of "clean-up" is to grow trees, about 170 per motor vehicle. However, these new trees can not be grown in previous forests, then when they are harvested, the wood can not be burned or consumed in any way, or it just becomes CO2 again.

Another possible objection might be that an automobile can carry up to six people while a bicycle carries just one. However, estimates are that we are currently down to 1.4 people per auto and dropping. Certainly, people who prove that they car-pool should get a break based on the actual reduction in parking or driving to work that they bring about. But the person who takes his family by motor vehicle on a long vacation deserves no break whatsoever.

In the above estimates, I talked about CO2 only because I don't know what benefit cyclists could claim for reductions in the production of ozone and oxides of nitrogen. Some credit should be given too for the reduced amount of material in the manufacture of a bike and the subsequent reduction in indirect pollution. After all, a bicycle is made of only 1/100th the material that goes into a car.

There are other places where the cyclists should receive some payment for cycling, and an obvious place is at the store, restaurant, or other place of business. In order to have customers, these businesses are forced to provide expensive parking lots. However, cyclists reduce the need for parking lots; therefore, cyclists (and also walkers) could receive some sort of a payment when they stopped. An actual cash payment would encourage unnecessary stopping, but what about a small discount? Senior citizens already receive such a discount.

Likewise, when an item is purchased in a store, the buyer has to pay sales tax. Some of this tax is spent on local roads, on road repairs, and on police and emergency services on roads and highways. Since bicycles are responsible for virtually no road damage, the cyclist could also receive a small tax break, equal to this amount, right at the store. Perhaps everyone else would pay a 7% sales tax and the cyclist 5%. This is not a great deal of money, but a constant reminder.

In addition, some of the local road money comes from property taxes and state income taxes. In those cases the cyclist would have to mail in proof of some sort with the discounted payment.

However, in my opinion, a discount for local roads would be a partial overpayment, since if everyone traveled by bikes, there would be still be wear and tear on the roads due to the weather, and cyclists also benefit directly from police and emergency services when they are using the roads. Finally, everyone indirectly benefits from the roads, due to the goods and services that are delivered on them (although the delivery man would be paying the direct costs). Perhaps a better solution would be to shift some of these costs away from general taxes and toward motor vehicle taxes; however, I don't think it's unfair for the cyclist to have to pay some of these costs.

Pollution credits could be paid in other areas besides transportation as well. For instance, we could charge a CO2 fee for the use of electricity and pay that money back to the people who install solar panels or windmills at their homes. Now instead of the fellow being laughed at as an eco-nut, he gets a cash reward for being environmentally conscious.

The total cash benefit to cyclists is going to probably be a lot smaller than the $10 a day I first mentioned, with the health benefit being the largest; however, it would be a constant reminder that being healthy and environmentally sound is good for everyone. The idea of being rewarded for cycling (instead of punished, which the harassment on the highway amounts to), might be enough to cause a new boom in cycling.

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