Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do Cyclists Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes?

I was doing some research a few months ago and came upon the Cyclists Bill of Rights (CBR), a document that was penned by the Bike Writers Collective, a Los Angeles-based peoples voice consortium-type group. In the process of making sure that no copyrights would be violated by posting any part of the CBR, I came across a phrase in the document’s preamble that stated, “. . . cyclists are considered to be the 'indicator species' of a healthy community.” Upon Googling the combinations of the phrasing, indicator species bicycle fair share taxes, I was led to several articles that touched on the above post title question.

It is a fair and interesting question. And, should anyone of Cyclist Nation be queried on their thoughts, having a solid answer would at least quell the cacophony of non-cyclists (whose vocal minority would readily lash out in anger over sharing their roads with cyclists) and provide us all with a bit of blessed silence. Yet, it may also be an exercise in futility to direct an answer of the inquiry to those folks. Give an idiot a voice and you give them an avenue to express their lack of intelligence.

The answer, although it could be dissected and discussed in many ways, is relatively simple: Taxes, regardless of their intent, are taxes; and any single tax dollar collected, regardless of the taxing authority, is no more, or no less, of a tax dollar than any other tax dollar.

Skeptics might counter with some argumentative drivel about highway taxes being different and use the rationale that they are more user-fee related than other taxes. But the supporting documentation is so easy to understand that it can be used by a blind man to shoot holes in biases the strength of a wet paper bag.

Cyclists who own and use an automobile

Although I own a KIA Sportage, as a cyclist I intend to hit the roads for an average of thirty-five hundred bicycle miles per year over the next twenty years (to attain a personal cycling goal). My cycling intentions do not eliminate the fact that a portion of my taxes will go to fund federal, state, and local road projects (or given the notorious history of public graft, pad the wallets of corrupt highway politicos).

Cyclists who do not own or use an automobile

Even if I did not own a car, I still use public transit for the brunt of my daily commute and have no qualms at using the same venue for non-work related travel. The principal source that fuels public transportation budgets are General Fund tax dollars. Where do those tax dollars come from? The primary sources are sales taxes, privilege taxes for entertainment purposes, and professional privilege taxes that are masked within a service fee (such as for dry cleaning, medical services, etc.). Residents of Metropolitan Davidson County proper can add property taxes to the stew.

(I’m using this municipality as an example since a) it is the closest major metropolitan center to me and, 2) such municipalities are where you will find the greatest number of non-auto owning cyclists, unless you consider a city like Davis, CA, which has more bicycles than cars.)

Those are the two scenarios and the line of demarcation is fairly plain. Still, the pessimistic prattlers pine on about highway funds being derived from user-related fees such as fuel taxes and automobile registrations. With that flawed perspective, they maintain that cyclists should not be allowed on the highways—regardless of road designation.

However, no matter where the roads are, there is an abundance of General Fund tax dollars in play. Consider a few of the General Fund services that, without these services available to every citizen, no modern society could function:

  1. Police, including all forms of traffic control (i.e., school patrols, etc.)
  2. Fire
  3. Emergency Medical, including First Responders
  4. Waste Disposal
  5. Public Works, including maintenance of municipal infrastructures
  6. Schools, including the system transportation
  7. Public Transportation (as cited above in scenario two), including all bus routes and even light rail

Next, you need to examine the impact that bicycle usage imposes on the actual roadways. Estimates from multiple sources indicate that even liberal bicycle impact costs projections are often around a half-cent per mile. For those folks having trouble with that statement, consider the following: How many repairs have been necessitated by bicycle usage on the roads (potholes, creases from disproportionate weight, structure damage from accidents, etc.)?

Taking another angle, for my anticipated 3500 miles road impact costs will be about $17.50 annually. How much sales tax, though, will be generated from sustenance purchases necessitated by the energy expended? Anywhere from two-to-ten times more, depending on where the taxes are collected and the nature of the rides (whether it is a hard, dehydrating, summer midday workout-type ride or a leisurely, spring evening jaunt will make a difference in what my re-energizing needs are). As well, I can guarantee a non-cyclist that my bicycle will need quite a few repairs and replacement parts over the course of 3500 miles, many caused by the road damage mentioned above, thereby generating an even greater amount of tax dollars being put back into the local economies.

If there are still any objections, let’s look at some positive ideas that benefit communities large and small whose leadership embrace the ideals of Cyclist Nation.

Bicycle friendly roadway improvements are by far usually less expensive and less invasive to daily traffic flow. These improvements, such as wider lanes and shoulders, especially for the projects designed in recent years are, as a consequence of modern engineering and technological advances, going to be not only better for cyclists but also automobile traffic as well.

Further, bicycle-specific improvements (bicycle-safe grates, traffic signals that detect bicycles, etc.) are implemented in part to ensure that automobile driver liability can stay lower by avoiding tangles with cyclists. Bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities are often healthier and more closely connected than are their counterparts. Their property values are usually higher and they are often more in tune with global environmental concerns as well.

So the question of whether cyclists do indeed pay their fair share of taxes is often more far reaching than a simple yes or no, as would the non-cyclist folks have you believe. And it is resoundingly in favor of the cyclist.

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