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FYI, there are several states that do tax groceries. Mississippi is the one I'm most familliar with, as I've spent 7 years of my career there, but other states do as well.

Ah. Better check yourself in the mirror, your liberal authoritarian streak is showing.

Personally I think there is nothing authoritarian about reflecting full social costs and benefits when making policy decisions. Putting a light finger on the scale to favor nonmotorized modes is hardly forcing anyone to adopt them.

But even so, its a very hard sell to make to parts of the public. Even "fair" treatment is hard enough to get, with so many entitled drivers around.

What BS. We've spent how many bazillions of dollars building infrastructure designed almost solely for free car use, and a tiny pittance for non-motorized transport. Free socialized parking, free socialized highways, free everything. It's a socialist car-topia. And now the car-commies still aren't happy and want to tax bikes? Nonsense.

+1 Greenbelt, yes things should be fair.
When the little tax-o-meter under the hood of my car goes "cha ching" and charges me a couple of bucks when I back out of my driveway and onto the street, then I'll happily buy a license plate for every single bike I own. When we directly assess the drivers of motorized vehicles the full cost of the transportation infrastructure that they consume rather than largely subsidizing that infrastructure from general tax revenue (i.e. my property and income taxes)then cyclists should be equally willing to pay bike taxes. I promise you that those of us on two wheels will come out way ahead on that deal.

Another flaw in the argument of those who want licenses for bikes is that it assumes that bikes are now asking for a new right (like the right to be on the road), when cyclists ALREADY have that right. There are no licensing requirements to walk, cycle, or ride a horse down a street. There is a licensing requirement for cars because cars are far more dangerous, and the license provides a third party insurance mechanism.

"We've spent how many bazillions of dollars building infrastructure designed almost solely for free car use..."

I don't want to be one to defend cars, Greenbelt, but the use of the roads is not free for cars. Those roads are paid for largely through a gasoline tax, but also through other taxes and vehicle licensing. The more one drives, the more gas tax one pays. That's why, as illogical as it may seem, some states are considering additional taxes on electric vehicles--they don't use gas, so don't pay any road taxes.

Now we can argue about whether the full societal impacts of cars are paid for through the taxes they pay, and we can argue that cars still produce externalities. But we can't say that cars get to use the roads for "free," because that's not true.

The Edge -- by "largely" I assume you mean more than half. If you look into the issue of how roads are paid for -- not just the construction, but also the upkeep -- you'll find two things: 1. the exact source of funding is obscured, quite likely deliberately; and 2. whatever gas tax contributes to it is less than half.

Do you remember the big gas tax increases that paid for the mixing bowl project in Virginia and the Inter-County Connector? Neither do I, because there weren't any -- general funds paid for both of those multi-billion dollar projects.

I think you are basically correct to argue that, if we want to increase bicycle mode share than we should give appropriate preferences to cyclists. However, no one seems to agree with what "fairness" is (for example, we've got a society where the rich are vacuuming up all the wealth while many argue that the rich are paying more than their "fair" share in taxes). "Fairness" is a quagmire best avoided, IMO.

Also, sadly, I think the real reason that we tax smokers and drinkers is that, here in the USA, it has become OK to slap a "loser" label on an entire group of people for the purpose of making money off of them. With "sin taxes" this is pretty straightforward. It also works with petty criminals and undocumented workers (fueling the prison-industrial complex; in this case the money comes from the middle class, who pay the rich to lock up the poor). And gamblers. Maryland just voted to expand "gaming" entirely for the purpose of taxing losers... er... I mean "gamers."

The mortgage interest deduction, used to encourage home ownership, is perhaps a better example.

Gas taxes contribute mostly to the building and upkeep of limited access highways, which we're not allowed to ride on anyway.

Jonathan, you hit on one of the reasons I sat on this post for so long. I still don't love this post, and I wish it could be more elegant. But yes, we can't agree on what is fair. And tax policy is a great example.

Some people think a flat tax is fair. Everyone pays the same percentage, what's not to like. Many people think a progressive tax is fair, but how progressive? When does it become punitive? What about charging everyone a fee for US Residency/Citizenship in place of an income tax (like dividing the check at a restaurant) - you could argue that is "fair".

I think we don't even need to consider "fairness": a tricky term at best, and a naked appeal to emotion at worst.

If drivers think cyclists should be registered and have license plates, we can debate them strictly on the policy issues, economics, etc without getting into fairness.

If they insist on getting into "fairness" we can reply that it is not fair that cyclists subsidize drivers, that drivers who kill pedestrians and cyclists are rarely punished, or that cyclists have to breath the pollution created by cars.

Plus there's that whole global warming thing, which I think will get a lot more serious attention when Santa's workshop melts into the Arctic Ocean (and which at the current rate of melting could happen in a few years...)

Roads aren't largely paid for through gasoline taxes. I don't recall the recent federal numbers but it's something like 55% of transportation infrastructure expenses being funded by gas taxes. (However, transit is included in the mix.)

At the state level, gas taxes pay an even lower percentage. Again, I don't know what the numbers are in D.C., but at least in Virginia, gas taxes only pay for about 30% of state road infrastructure spending.

***
As for the fairness issue and clarity, there's another massive complication -- healthcare spending. The sedentary, car-centric lifestyle plays a significant role (along with poor nutrition) in the obesity rates in the U.S., up to one-third of all adults. We spend $190 billion a year in combined gov't and private healthcare programs to treat obesity-related conditions.

While there may not be direct correlations between car driving and obesity, it's clear that too many people don't get any exercise whatsoever. And that sedentary lifestyle leads to massive costs, costs which are paid for by others through higher taxes and higher private insurance premiums to cover all that extra spending.

Many trips are under 2 miles, especially in urban areas. Improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure can encourage more people to be active. That in turn could save a lot of money on healthcare spending. Think of it this way. A health-conscious taxpayer might be spending as much as a couple thousands dollars a year or more... to subsidize the unhealthy lifestyles of the one-third of adults who don't exercise at all and eat junk food all day. Why is that fair? It isn't.

I have a two year old daughter. She knows the difference between bikes, legs, and cars. She even knows that you walk on sidewalks and only mommies and daddies drive cars (her shorthand for "adults," lest the singles feel left out here).

As a society, we understand the same thing. We don't ask pedestrians to tattoo a license plate on their necks. That would be silly. Nor do we demand that funds be equal for trains and bikes. That would be silly too. It's not social engineering, it's just understanding what a two year old understands.

I don't know how I feel about this. I understand your point about promoting preferred modes. (I make that argument all the time.)

OTOH, I see no problems adding a bicycle endorsement to a drivers license.

I am even probably ok with a license plate for bikes.

But the basic foundational point is that motor vehicle operators for the most part take their entitlement for granted, it is so intrinsic to their way of thinking about the world that they can't acknowledge that motor vehicles are in fact subsidized deeply and widely.

One of the other points I make all the time is that center cities need differentiated policies compared to the suburbs. Mobility policy is a key element of this point. Cities were designed to optimize walking, biking and transit, not the automobile.

To maintain optimal mobility in the cities then, those are the modes that need to be preferenced.

I might take a bike license plate if that meant the police were then obligated to do something about bike theft.

I'm just confused about what problem bike licensing is meant to address, and how it would address that problem. I'm not sure one even needs to get to the questions about efficacy and cost.

I was skeptical when I read it because I thought it was too flippant, but I'm getting a pretty good understanding by applying the ideas from this article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/dec/14/drivers-moral-progress-cyclists-speed-awareness

(tl;dr: "even the quiet law-abiding cyclist like me who only rides very slowly through red lights, demonstrates the freedom that car drivers have traded for comfort")

The article isn't a perfect statement by any means, but it definitely goes a long way. The perspective particularly helps understand the perennial appeals to fairness, why it's so hard to get bicycle-specific laws on the books anywhere when all the varieties of land-crawling motor vehicles each get their own codes, and even why the driver's common first approximation of a solution is to limit bicycles and subject them to licensing like motor vehicles.

They, like al-Qaeda, hate us for our freedom.

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