Standard Responses is a series of articles I pre-wrote to tide me over during paternity leave. The idea is to come-up with a brief, but complete, response to a common statement of bicycle opposition. What is below is my "first draft" and I welcome input and suggested changes. The final product will be placed on a separate page on the blog so that you can just copy and paste it as needed.
Sometimes a person will complain that cyclists don't pay their own way. That cyclists ride on roads paid for by drivers and that "Maybe we should institute a road tax on bicycles."
[The League of American Bicyclists has a good response here]
Roadway user fees imposed on motorists don't cover the costs of roads and the balance is covered by general tax funds. Because of the type of roads cyclists use and the funding that pays for them; as well as the low costs imposed by cyclists and pedestrians on the road network and society, it is actually they who subsidize motorists. And the roads they get are built to the needs of the subsidized.
There are several analyses that show that "user fees" - such as the gas tax, tolls and vehicle taxes and fees - cover only about 50-60% of road costs. [The Brookings Institute, 2003, 58.9%; Subsidy Scope, 2007, 51%; The FHWA, 1999, between 72% and 22%]. The remainder comes from other taxes and fees, property taxes and borrowing. So non-motorists do pay into the building of roads. In fact, a study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute showed that motorists are heavily subsidized by non-motorists.
The federal gas tax goes primarily to pay for interstates and national highways, and cyclists are often (but not always) prohibited from using them. Cyclists, in general, use local roads that are more likely to be funded by general tax funds (as opposed to highways that are paid for by gas taxes). General tax funds are also used to pay for traffic services such as policing, emergency services and subsidized (or free) parking. As a result user fees only pay for about 10% of local roads and traffic services. Meaning non-motorists are pitching in on the other 90%.
In addition, there are other negative externalities such as congestion delays, crash and fatality costs, pollution, land use-related opportunity costs, zoning code-required parking costs and driving-related health costs that are also not paid for exclusively by motorists.
And, cyclists do pay taxes. They pay sales taxes on their bikes, bike supplies and even the calories they burn while cycling. Since there is often no sales tax on gasoline, the taxes cyclists pay per mile might in fact be very close to what drivers pay per mile. Bicyle sales alone is a $6B industry, meaning that cyclists have paid about $300M in sales taxes on their bicycles. This money is added to general tax revenue and general tax revenue is used....to build roads.
To add insult to injury, the roads that cyclists subsidize are not built for cyclists needs. On the one hand, they're overbuilt - wider and capable of carrying greater weight than cyclists need; and on the other hand they're not built or maintained to a standard that considers cyclist safety - with tire catching storm grates added and cyclist-throwing potholes allowed or temporary steel plates installed, for example.
Finally, there are several other users, such as school buses, taxis and cement mixers, that are exempt from paying the gas tax in certain states. Do they have less of a right to the road as a result?