Are Bicyclists Free Riders?

| Do bicyclists contribute their fair share to the transportation network? An Oregon lawmaker thinks not, and has proposed a law requiring cyclists to pay a $54 registration fee every two years. A Portland bike blog interviewed the lawmaker in question, who explained the proposal this way: “[B]ikes have used the roads in this state forever and have never contributed a penny. The only people that pay into the system are those people who buy motor vehicle licenses and registration fees.” Considering the enormous benefits of investments in bicycle infrastructure, can even a tax-hating bicyclist concede his point, at a registration cost of just over 7 cents a day? [%comments]


This is a crazy idea that goes against the whole essence of bike-riding. More people riding bikes would significantly decrease the amount of money the city has to spend on road repair and construction. If anything, the city should pay people to ride bikes, not the other way around.


So a police officer is going to write seven year old's tickets for riding unregistered bikes? What about a registration tax every two years on shoes since pedestrians also use roads and sidewalks? Doesn't Oregon encourage green technology and isn't a bike an extremely green form of transport - is this a tax would be discouraging a behavior that many would rather encourage?


"[B]ikes have used the roads in this state forever and have never contributed a penny. The only people that pay into the system are those people who buy motor vehicle licenses and registration fees."

seems to me that most (adult) bicycle riders would also own a motorized vehicle.
Or are they into taxing children?


i'm sympathetic with the bill providing a better way to identify bikers who break traffic laws (a registration number could be recorded), but on the rest i'm somewhat skeptical. feels like the lawmaker has a mild anti-bike agenda from reading the intervew. i figure that a larger portion of road improvement should be paid for out of general funds, in that all of us benefit from a good road system. even if we don't drive, we buy things brought in on vehicles, or delivered to us. yes, there should be gas taxes and some road tolls to more directly tax heavy users, but just apply the 54 dollar tax to every citizen over two years, and use that for roads in general.

Rob Stevens

And they shouldn't have to. Bikes don't hear up the roads the way 2000 lbs. riding on underinflated tires do. Why not fine the jerks who you hear are still driving around on bare pavement with studs?

If the idea is to get less people driving, then why would you give anyone a disincentive to do just that?


That makes sense in theory, however, how do you differentiate between bicyclist commuters and those who ride bikes for recreation? If I own 2 cars, drive to work, pay tolls, pay gas tax, excise tax, registration, license fees, etc... Didn't I already pay my "fair share" of taxes? Does this apply to children as well? Is it only a matter of time before I have to start paying a fee to jog on the sidewalk??


I would pay the. Particularly as a resident of New York if New York were as good to bicyclists as Oregon is. It's better for the environment.


On looking at you see that 54$ is the cost of registration for a car in Oregon. Now I would like to see the math because of which a 20lb bike does as much damage to roads as a car that weighs a 100 times that.


Are we going to start making people pay a registration free to walk on sidewalks as well?


Sure - I'll register my bike and pay my fee if you can promise me that the significant majority of that money will go to bicycle infrastructure. But how likely is that?


A single truck causes more wear than how many bicycles? If the cost of all the bike lanes are added up - cost of the lane marking, maybe a charge for extra congestion caused by pavement being narrowed (?) - then I'll bet the subsidies clearly run to trucks but that bikes do have some small cost attached to them.

Matt Lehrer

Your assumption that the municipality or state would invest the license fees in bicycle infrastructure seems to be a pretty big leap of faith.

Henry Rose

As a daily bicycle commuter and car owner I would argue that I contribute an equal amount as any other car owner and that the impact of my bicycles on the roads is negligible compared to that of even a compact car.

I believe strongly that making healthy, environmentally friendly transportation easily accessible has vast positive effects on individuals, communities and and the global environment. An almost impossible to enforce fee would serve only to dissuade potential law-abiding bicyclists from giving it a shot.

Doctor Gonzo

In Minnesota, and probably elsewhere (perhaps even in Oregon), both local property taxes and some sales taxes go towards road maintenance. So saying that unless you own a car you are not paying a single penny towards roads is 100% false.

Then there's another point I've brought up to anti-bikers in the past: if you think bikes should pay, shouldn't it be proportional to the wear and tear that a bike puts on a road? And considering how much damage a 180-pound person on two wheels really does inflict, isn't the maybe $5 a year I pay towards roads through my property taxes a fair price for the damage I cause?


Why not charge people an access fee for using the sidewalk? They've been certainly getting a huge free ride....

jerome p

As a lifetime bike rider and also lifetime driver, such silly legislation will obviously penalise the few and for little reason. If the problem is bike misbehaviour a road use tax is absurd. If we are talking about road use, there can be little to no wear and tear to the core structure of the roads and road furniture due to bikes.

As a car driver I opt whenever possible to cycle - i prefer it, i feel better for it, i emit less waste and it costs me far far less. I would find it hugely unfair to be levied a tax because I would aready be paying my fair dues on the taxes I pay for my car; one could even argue that my road tax is overpayment since I use the car so little compared to the average.


John Wilson

I don't know how it works in the states, but in the UK road repairs are paid for by the council, so it's funded by all council-tax payers, whereas car tax is paid to the central government, and doesn't actually directly contribute to most road repair costs.

Is this not the same in the States?


The tax or registration fee will not cover more than the costs associated with registration. It's seems to be a dumb way to raise revenues. It may be a smart way for a politician to raise his profile.

I don't live in Oregon and likely never will, but I would ignore this regulation if passed.


This is a horrible idea. And not because of the trifling cost to cyclists, but because based on the research cited, it seems the best approach would be to subsidize people's cycling, not taxing it. The last thing Portland would want would be less bike riders, and I foresee many people that would cavil at the registration fee, and curtail their cycling.

Of course, this all depends on how elastic cycling is...

L Nettles

Considering the proposed tax on breathing known as Cap and Trade, this hardly seems to matter but it does arise from the same mind set.