Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Do Bicyclists Pay Their Own Way?

People who are anti-bicycle sometimes say that bicyclists use the roads but do not pay the gasoline taxes that help maintain the roads.

This idea is absurd on its face, because the local streets and roads that bicycles use are paid for primarily by cities' general funds, using property taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes that everyone pays. Gasoline taxes are used to pay part of the cost of freeways, which bicyclist cannot use and which are also subsidized by taxes that everyone pays.

For the first time, I have seen an analysis of how much cost bicyclists and cars impose, which provides another argument against the claim that bicyclists should pay their own way. It looks at the base cost of paving streets and providing signage plus the cost of the damage that different vehicles cause to pavement, and it looks at the three factors that determine the cost for a given mode of transportation: weight, size, and speed. It concludes that:
  • A car that weighs 3,000 pounds, is 15 feet long, and travels at 30 mph imposes a cost of $1.20 on a trip that is 10 miles long.
  • A bicycle imposes a cost of $0.05 on a trip that is 10 miles long.
  • A pedestrian imposes a cost of $0.02 on a trip that is 10 miles long. 
The costs for pedestrians and bicycles are so small that it would not make sense to tax them. If a bicyclist rides 1,000 miles per year, the total tax would be $2, so the revenue would not cover the cost of administering the tax.

Combine the lower cost that bicyclists impose with the fact that local streets are paid for by taxes that everyone pays, and it is clear that bicyclists already pay more than their fair share of street maintenance. The property taxes that bicyclists pay subsidize the costs that motor vehicles create.

See the calculations and more details here.