Everyone’s favorite argument against cycling: Road Tax. “Once they [cyclists] pay license and fuel taxes,” so the argument goes, “then they can have the right to the road!” There is so much wrong with this argument it isn’t funny. In all jurisdictions in the US and Great Britain, the vast majority of the money going towards roads goes comes form the general fund. The people making this argument seem to believe that the primary purpose – and societal good – of roads is to allow motorists to drive to their destinations. That is the core of the logical fallacy, and why the argument breaks down from the beginning. I’m beating a well beaten and already dead horse here, but it is one that just won’t seem to stay away.
The reason that everyone’s tax dollars go to support the road infrastructure is because the roads are there for the benefit of everyone in society, regardless of how much they drive. What benefit do people that don’t drive get from the roads? Well consider these points:
- Road infrastructure is necessary to facilitate the transportation of goods to the markets where people can go to buy them. how many people would be willing to drive all the way to a farm to buy a head of lettuce? No, instead they expect to be able to go to a local market, near their house, to buy this. The common road infrastructure is therefore subsidized by tax dollars to provide a network for the transportation of goods and services closer to people’s homes.
- Fire departments, police, and medical services all utilize the road network to get to problem locations quicker. This alone would warrant public funding.
- Roads have been necessary to deliver mail since the Pony Express stopped being a viable service.
- OK – and yes, people getting to their places of employment is also an overall societal good, and thus warrants the allocation of public funds.
But what about those gas and license fees you may ask. Well, vehicle license fees are loosely based on tonnage of the vehicle, which is an indirect way of measuring the wear and tear they inflict on the roads. While these license fees are mostly absorbed by the agencies responsible for the administrative overhead of collecting and managing this licensing, the portions that do go to roads are theoretically equivalent to the amount of road space used, and amount of maintenance required, to ensure that vehicle can drive where it needs. How much road space and maintenance is required for a car compared to a bicycle do you suppose?
The majority of gas tax dollars that do go to road infrastructure are allocated heavily to the state portions of the interstate highway system. Let’s not forget that barring some rare and carefully controlled exceptions, bicycles aren’t actually allowed to use that system anyhow.
Within this framework, let’s compare the cyclist to the motorist. It is more common then not that a cyclist will also have a motor vehicle, and will thus be paying roughly the same in license fees as a motorist that drives 30 miles a day commuting to work. So from this perspective, the cyclist is actually paying more then the heavy motorist for the same piece of roadway. Every time someone in this category rides a bike instead of driving a car, they are reducing wear and tear on the road system while also reducing the amount of physical space taken up on the road – while continuing to contribute the same amounts.
But don’t take my word for it. Because graphics prove all points there is this: