Caving to Resentment Politics, Oregon Enacts a Bike Tax

The preposterous bike tax accomplishes no discernible transportation goal except dampening demand for new bicycles.

If you buy a bike for more than $200 in Oregon now, you'll pay a $15 tax. Photo:  Tedder via Wikimedia Commons
If you buy a bike for more than $200 in Oregon now, you'll pay a $15 tax. Photo: Tedder via Wikimedia Commons

A straw man erected by bike infrastructure opponents has morphed into official policy in what’s supposedly one of the most bike-friendly corners of the United States.

The accusation that people who ride bikes don’t pay for roads is familiar to anyone who’s tried to argue for bike infrastructure in a public setting. Never mind that biking puts almost zero strain on the road network compared to driving, that people who bike also pay a variety of taxes that do fund roads, and that drivers don’t cover the full cost of car infrastructure by a longshot. It’s all about resentment.

Nevertheless, that idea has managed to shape the law in Oregon (yes, Oregon), which now has a tax on bicycles. Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland explains how it works:

The tax was opposed by small business owners, advocacy groups, and by many voters; but the political winds were simply too much to overcome. I have some thoughts about how we got to this point that I’ll share in a future post. For now, here are the final details of the bike tax:

  • It’s a $15 flat tax instead of the 4-5% tax initially proposed.
  • Applies to new bicycles with a wheel diameter of 26-inches or larger and a retail price of $200 or more.
  • Expected to raise $1.2 million per year and cost $100,000 per year to administer.
  • Funds will go into the Connect Oregon program and be set aside specifically, “for the purposes of grants for bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects… that expand and improve commuter routes for nonmotorized vehicles and pedestrians, including bicycle trails, footpaths and multiuse trails.”
  • Tax will be collected by bicycle retailers and they’ll be required to file quarterly returns with the Department of Revenue.
  • Bicycle retailers are required to keep receipts and records pertaining the collection of the tax for a minimum of five years.
  • The tax will go into effect 91 days after the legislative session ends (that’d be October 8th if it ends on July 10th as scheduled).

So there you have it. We are taxing the healthiest, most inexpensive, most environmentally friendly, most efficient, and most economically sustainable form of transportation ever devised by the human species.

Congrats to Oregon on its preposterous bike tax that accomplishes no discernible transportation goal except dampening demand for new bikes. Will this finally put to rest the politics of bicycle resentment (spoiler: no), or will it just embolden the usual cast of bike lane haters to ratchet up their noise?

More recommended reading today: KXAN reports that some Houston residents are complaining “speed cushions” will slow emergency fire evacuations — but in practice what’s really endangering residents trying to flee wildfires is sprawling neighborhood design. And Human Transit says that while uncrowded transit vehicles may have plenty of room to stretch your legs, that’s not what cities should be striving for.

194 thoughts on Caving to Resentment Politics, Oregon Enacts a Bike Tax

  1. “if 2/3 of the cost of roads…” fact is not. according to the tax foundation gas taxes and user fees cover around 55% of road costs.
    “2/3” of roadway costs are not by drivers.
    Drivers also pay property taxes, sales, income, and local fees more so than none drivers(parking tickets, etc.). 85% drive, thus the political will to spend on roads.

  2. Nope, that’s completely inaccurate.

    It’s not difficult to figure out, you just have to look at both sides of the ledger. Motorist-specific revenue falls far short of motorist-inflicted cost. Those of us not inflicting that cost are subsidizing those who are.

  3. “those of us inflicting that cost are subsidizing those who are” Right,

    drivers are subsidizing bike lanes, bike paths, cycle tracks, transit and the general fund.

  4. I have to agree, we pay far to little for our awesome mobility. That is what makes driving affordable, reliable, valuable and accessible. This I cant say for part time transportation and full time recreation or riding a toy. Just like you I think Cyclists don’t pay enough for their bike lanes, racks, cycle tracks, ridership programs, signals, etc.

  5. That is right drivers pay 2/3 toward the cost of their roads. Cyclists pay zero to the cost of bicycle lanes, etc.

  6. @ceefer – We already pay more than our share for the cost of infrastructure, without this tax. There is widespread ignorance on this point, and both this tax and your comment reflect it.

  7. @Jacob Wilson – Everything he/she/it says generally is. Including the misuse of “geek” in her/his/its anonymous user handle. Normally a geek has some mastery of facts.

  8. @walks bikes drives – It’s true that insurance has almost nothing to do with road maintenance. It does, however, play a role in greatly falling short of another major cost that motorists inflict on the public realm, at more orders of magnitude than participants of any other transportation mode: police, fire, and EMT services.

  9. Exactly what is “more than our share”?

    Unless you’re paying gas taxes and tolls – in addition to SAME sales, income, and property taxes EVERYONE ELSE pays, you are by no means “paying more than your share”.

    Even so, NO ONE ELSE gets to use bike lanes unless they’re on a bike. you on the other hand can use the roads as you very well please.

    It’s about time you whining cylists got off that silly canard the you’re “paying more than your share” and stopped calling people “ignorant” for calling you out on that lie.

    Now have a seat.

  10. @ceefer – Two sides to every ledger, revenue and costs. The costs inflicted by motorists to roads are far, far greater than the costs inflicted by bicyclists. The cost difference is much greater than gas taxes, tolls, registration fees, etc. by orders of magnitude. Therefore, yes, we are already paying more than our share for the infrastructure w use. To say the opposite is the silly canard.

    The standard estimate used by AAHSTO is a function of the fourth power of the weight per axle, so by math the average car does 160,000x the damage as the average bike. There’s a lower estimate of 9,600x calculated by an intern at Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance for an infographic. ODOT jumped all over that infographic for some estimated costs, but they did not challenge the 9,600x figure.

    Even at this underestimate, my points stand. Cars inflict way more damage than the per-motorist revenue covers. Bicycles inflict way less than bicyclists pay for. We subsidize you.

  11. So in order to make you indefensible points you have decided that cyclists are ONLY cylclsts and do not drive, nor do they own homes and pay property taxes? Are you being purposefully dense in refusing to grasp that road taxes for cars and trucks are mainly paid by property taxes – taxes paid by people who neither drive nor cycle, just as school taxes are paid both by people who have children as well as by those who don’t. It’s called civilization and people act civilized, not selfish, Well, not everyone; not the ones who want their ‘money (to) be spent on roads, not on hipsters.

  12. Literally 2 comments ago in this very thread you conceded, and I quote, “Cyclists do pay into the general fund…” Now you say we pay zero, again. Which is it?

    Assuming what you meant was that cyclists pay zero user fees towards the cost of our facilities, so what? If drivers pay three times as much for their infrastructure as cyclists do, that’s only unfair to drivers if their infrastructure costs less than three times as much as cyclists infrastructure. But the median bike lane costs less than a 20th of a mid-priced new, rural road, and a bike does around 1-17,000th of the wear as a typical car. So drivers are getting a rather good deal by only paying three times as much.

  13. Yes I have said Cyclists do pay into the general fund, In no way do they pay they pay gas taxes and user fees. Thus they don’t pay for the infrastructure they are using. Just accept it as convoluted as you want to make it, cyclists are freeloaders and would do anything to justify that agenda.

  14. Sure, Someone who drives is more likely to have kids, own cars, have a house, buy more, thus paying a substantial amount of taxes compared to a childless hipster cyclist. Okay sorry, people who ride a bike as transportation are likely to not have children, will consume less, and live in an apartment or go to school. Look you cant have it both ways. You cant say you subsidize a road and then turn around and say it is cheaper to bike. Their are obvious consequences to something that is free, like cycling. Someone else actually pays for the road they use. After that the driving public has their local taxes diverted to subsidize bike lanes and create congestion.

  15. Thing only purposefully dense would be the idea that property taxes mainly pay for roads. A false narrative indeed to make a cyclist feel better about his overtly convoluted argument. Property taxes in many state mainly go to schools. And absolutely none are allocated to state and federal transportation programs on any property tax bill, unless the mill is voted on by the public.

  16. The answer to your question is easy. Drivers are more likely to own a house or property. Second drivers consume more thus paying more sales taxes, mobility creates more economic transactions. Lastly drivers pay gas taxes and user fees, not to mention parking tickets, and other fees that dont’t go to roads. Lastly, When local municipalities want easy funds to shore up a budget they take those fees and subsidize their general fund.

    I know it is hard relying on the convoluted argument that somehow someway a cyclist pays for bike infrastructure. The only way a cyclist could literally say that, is if a politician allocates money from gas taxes and user fees to go toward bike lanes.

  17. “so what” That says it all. The entitlement of the cyclist is unbelievable. I totally agree that cyclists don’t damage roads. That is fairly obvious. What they do is create congestion, by lowering the speed limit and creating areas where autos can’t pass. BIkes also require heavy subsidies to encourage biking “divvy program”. There are other forms of specialized infrastructure, bike racks, all the paint, concrete, and plastic required to separate them from traffic. And if you are some cities specialized traffic signals.

    Vehicles don’t cause potholes and other weather conditions that destroy the same road you bike on. So those costs should be shared, especially considering a pothole, cracking, and un shoveled bike lanes are just as dangerous for vehicles as they are for bicycles. Just for the

    Cook County funds page 12:

  18. Hey, a source! This is a really positive development from you! You should try backing up your arguments with facts more often!

  19. What? I quote from the article: Gas Tax: “$129,981 (.44 percent)” You’ve got it backwards, arterials are 99% funded from sources other than gas tax.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove with the Bridge the Gap link. It is, as I’ve always said, a property tax, which cyclists are not exempt from.

  20. Horsefeathers. Google ‘who pays for roads?’ and you will find many, many responses which will tell any open-minded person that gas taxes come nowhere near paying for road building and upkeep, that it is income taxes that even bicyclists pay, that it is federal money.

    Or you could continue being purposely dense. I really couldn’t care less. But your one-trick pony act bores me.

  21. Exactly, drivers are actually contributing and paying income and property taxes too. I would love it if drivers could make the same tangential argument about subsidizing roads. But they don’t. They demand better roads and are willing to pay for it, That I can’t say for cyclists. Who bitch about a small fee. You know I am open minded but don’t buy into the fantasy that bikes should get a free ride. Cyclists were always allowed in the street. It was never illegal to ride a bike. Now, cyclists want extra space that creates congestion and decreases mobility on the road, they want specialized infrastructure and programs related to cycling to “encourage riding.” Well be like driver and pay for it, freerider.

  22. It is a non recurring tax levy. And disingenuous to say that a tax levy supports the idea “roads are mostly paid for with the property tax.” 33% is not my definition of most. As if you did not look at the property tax link, it is not done in Chicago. To me this is problematic When arguing that point. If you want to say property taxes pay for roads too. Cool, a mill or levy is understood. BTW, what backs those GOB bonds? at 50?

  23. If you think I’m being disingenuous, what do you call claiming gas taxes fund 99% of arterials when the actual number is less than 1%?

    Glass houses, man.

  24. I made no such claim intentionally, however you did claim that “roads are mostly paid for with property taxes.” And that is false. This is why you have to beware of cyclists, I always knew they were freeloaders just looking for a handout.

  25. I think at this point we are well beyond any hope of having a mature or productive discussion. Have a good day.

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