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Apr 24 / Andy

Who pays for roads and do bicyclists pay taxes?

While this site is mainly aimed towards advancing the streetcar project, a lot of the benefits and arguments are closely related to concepts such as multimodal tranport, new urbanist city planning, and more. What good is a light rail (especially at the beginning when there are only a few lines), when it doesn't take you to within walking distance to your destination? Bicycling helps bridge that gap, often increasing the usable area around a streetcar station to several miles (vs. about 1 mile only walking). So, here's an article on biking and their right to be on the roads.

I was talking with a freind recently about bicycling and we were talking about benefits and costs of building seperate bike paths beside roads where bike traffic was heavy and cars travel fast (there are quite a few areas like this in Northern Nevada). He mentioned that a problem with the current situation is that "bicyclists don't pay taxes". This actually isn't true.

Bicyclists pay only a few taxes specifically related to their bicycle - pretty much sales tax on the purchase of equipment bought within the state. Other than that, there aren't any registration fees, license fees, fuel taxes, etc. Motorists on the other hand pay a good amount of taxes related specifically to driving a car - fuel tax, registration fees, and tolls are some of them.

So what am I getting at?

If you look at who funds the roads bicyclists and cars are sharing, you'll see that they are not paid for only with money raised by "user fees", but also a signficant portion is funded by general funds money.

Interstate highways are paid for with a large portion of the cost (if not the whole amount) paid for by the federal government. Bikes typically are not on these roads. However, many state, county, and municipal roads are paid for with large portions paid for by general fund money. Considering that fuel taxes are typically exempt from local sales taxes, bicycle owners pay an equal proportion of taxes to general funds as car owners do.

So the main idea here is that, roads don't pay for themselves. There isn't a free market working here - our governments have chosen to advance a particular mode of transportation and this is evidenced in that fact that roads do not pay for themselves solely with user fees.

Furthermore, if you're going to choose a mode of transportation to advance, choose anything but cars! Their are many many external costs that aren't factored into what I said above - I was just indicating the cost of construction and maintenance! Consider health effects of driving vs. walking or bicycling and the environmental effects of thousands of cars running their engines each day. Biking and transit is advantageous over both of those and its pretty transparent to see why.

Our economy is tuned for cars. The entire thing! But, 100 years ago it wasn't. Its hard to think about fixing the system when there is so much to do, but continuing down the same path isn't a very smart option either.

I'll leave you with a few resources to check out to see whose paying for roads in your area.

Happy cycling!