Should Bicyclists Pay a Road Tax? Measured and Tallied

I was bursting at the seems wanting to talk about this ahead of time, but one has to respect timing!  The company I work for Webtrends, has produced an advertisement campaign to kick start a conversation that has often come up on Portland Transport, here, and other transit related blogs in the City of Portland.  Webtrends will be providing analysis to this campaign across the web to show the power and strength of effective analytics.  As Jascha Kaykas-Wolff our VP of Marketing has written,

“What we are really advertising is our strength; the power of our products. The ability to measure conversations whether they happen on your site (visit pdx.webtrends.com for more details) or off your site (social media) regardless of the topic.”

Web analytics has a way of expanding our knowledge about marketing, sales, and business related information, but it also has the ability to expand our knowledge about ourselves.  It represents accuracy in our social existence beyond the simple interaction of business.  So the question now is, how will citizens of Portland represent upon the blogs, Twitter, and the sundry of great website available throughout the city?  I’ll bet pretty well considering Portland’s connectedness.

Personally I’m stoked to have a connection between one of my amateur fascinations and actual professional work.  I look forward to the City’s results, as measured by Webtrends.  :)  Now some of my regular readers might think – oh great, they’ll do this study and the data will just disappear!  Oh contraire, in will be collated and crunched and put together to properly correlate appropriate causations and be open and via the site available here:  pdx.webtrends.com.

Hope you transit riders (and, walkers, drivers, boaters, flyers, ferry boat riders & cyclists) will join in and add your opinion to, "Should cyclists pay a road tax?".

ADDED CONTENT: IMHO, great link regarding road costs & fees/taxes.
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26 Comments

  1. So as a cyclist, I was exempt from the gas tax I paid when I bought gas for my car yesterday? I like the concept, but the question is wrong. It should be "Should cyclists pay a bike-specific road tax." Webtrends has already framed the question incorrectly and any analytic will be skewed based on this.

    Reply

  2. Obviously though, it has been effective in starting the conversation already eh. 😉

    I was thinking, and discussing with so cohorts that a prospective "commuter bike" license might be worthwhile, but the underlying probably, IMHO is in enforcement or actual utilization of the fee, if it is or is not collected.

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  3. Bear with the control freak: <a href="http://wordsmith.org/words/au_contraire.html">Au Contraire</a>, not Oh… and it seems that <a href="http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/bursting+at+the+seams">bursting at the seams</a> should be spelt with an A.

    That said…

    It seems that Webtrends is bucking a taboo here. It is almost like plastering a bus with "Should Oregon get a sales tax?". Politically, I think that bicyclists think that they’re already sacrificing and doing the ‘right thing’ by bicycling. And honestly, if all the cars were to leave the road and we all rode bikes, road maintenance would go WAY down. Bicyclists ARE paying a road tax: it is called sweat.

    On the equality end (something government is infinitely concerned with), if you want to charge a new tax for bicyclists, it should be on a weight-mile basis, I suppose. But it seems silly for a government to all of the sudden discourage bike riding when it is better for the community, better for air quality, better for public health, better for road maintenance, etc. etc. That’s sort of like taxing wind farms or solar collectors or something.

    I agree with Aaron. Because I’m a cyclist doesn’t mean I’m NOT a motorist. It just means I am less of a motorist. I pay taxes to support the roads, but let’s be honest, on a bike, I’m using up roads much less than when I’m driving.

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  4. Hahahaa, Cycling road maintance? Ha!

    I think that equates to about 0.001 cents per year over the history of time. The roads the Romans built still exist, those had heavier traffic than bicycles. If 90% of people starting riding bikes, and 90% of trucking was eliminated (which of course, is impossible) we would have ZERO cost roads. 🙂

    Wow, that’d save over $260 BILLION dollars a year.

    Reply

  5. I am a cyclist and my taxes already pay for the roads that I use. The appropriate question should have been "Should we start a bicycle registration program?". The "data" you collect from this campaign is going to be skewed and pointless.

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  6. This question is based on false presumptions. Because I cycle does not preclude my also being a driver. As a cyclist, do I enjoy exemption from the gas tax. As a cyclist, do I get an exemption from state income tax. As a cyclist, do I get to register my car for free? No, no and no. I am already paying so-called road taxes. But as a cyclist, I am also helping save the state and the country money through improved health, and decreased emissions, and decreased road wear, and reduced traffic, etc. This question has no bearing on the realities of cycling in the greater Portland metropolitan area. There are far too many other issues needing attention too waste time with this rediculous and foundless arguement.

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  7. Why would you tax a behavior that (1) Does not increase global warming (2) Does not damage roads (3) Increases people’s fitness (4) Reduces American dependence on foreign oil (4) Uses bikes, a technology that’s 100 times more efficient to produce than cars, and are the most energy-efficient form of transportation ever devised?

    You may have started a discussion, but you’ve started it in the entirely wrong direction. A better question is, why were you deceived that roads "pay for themselves" with gas taxes in the first place?

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/highways-dont-pay-for-themselves.php

    Question Fail.

    Reply

  8. Jascha, robbie, JohnO, Rick, and all – thx for the comments!

    The question doesn’t really presuppose that gas taxes pay for the roads btw. Per my blog I’ve written many an entry on the lack of funding for roads, and the fact that road fees, gas taxes, etc, really don’t amount to all that much. It’s a recurring theme in infrastructure funding.

    The question is serving its purpose well, which is to get the conversation going, and to get people to pay attention. Not many realize, as Jascha points out, Salem has a bill on the table. So if you do or do not support a cycle tax, it might be a good time to get involved and get in touch with your local politicians.

    Anyway – thanks for commenting and please, do keep reading. Got some great entries in the pipeline!

    Reply

  9. From the way that your "marketing" company is going about collecting it’s data, I would hope that no one in any position of authority in this matter is going to utilize it to make actual policy decisions.

    Arguments about a cycling tax aside (I disagree with it) . . . your methodology is not only suspect, but completely unscientific from a statistical point of view. Placing such an ad on the Max train is going to only result in recieiving feedback from the more vocal parties on both sides of the issue. It will do little to gauge what the average citizen wants or feels regarding this issue. I truly hope that whomever was foolish enough to hire your company throws your reports in the trash as that is quite simply where they belong.

    Reply

  10. Hey Adron –

    Great conversation you guys have started. Here’s what I’m thinking…ideally there should be two separate taxes – a fuel tax, and a road tax. The fuel tax would be structured to incent people to use fuels that are better for the environment (total carbon footprint, not just air quality) and to use less of it. The fuel tax is about the environmental impact of the fuel you choose to use.

    The road tax should then be structured to pay for road maintenance. The more damage you do, the more you pay. It should incent you travel in lighter vehicles. This is probably just a registration fee with vehicle weight, and potentially miles traveled last year, as factors in calculation of the fee. Bicycles wouldn’t pay much under that formula.

    My 2 cents.

    -Aaron

    Reply

  11. Matt -> Webtrends is not collecting a statistical sampling of people’s opinion, only a factual and literal overview of the social online conversation. This is to gauge the online ideas/opinions of the topic. In that sense, the data is collected and shows what it shows, the statistical data you are probably pondering isn’t what Webtrends is after. The overall metropolitan statistical information is something the City or State would have to collect. It could be coordinated against the web opinion at that point, Webtrends does an awesome job of data correlation, with actual cause, and can add statistical information.

    But as I was saying, Webtrends is merely measuring the actual impact on the web, etc, not actual voter stats for the physical area of Oregon. As stated on the information page linked, the data will then be presented in an open manner and people can draw conclusions from it at that time.

    It would be really awesome if someone did collect that data, and then cross correlated it against the online social conversation to see how closely the web conversation related to that of the in real life (IRL) conversation.

    Reply

  12. Aaron -> I actually like your idea a lot. It’s about as close to pay per use as I could imagine for something like roadways, which generally are completely disconnected from tax/usage/etc.

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  13. how can asking people to vent received cliches based on misinformation possibly lead to anything meaningful? the private automobile is very heavily subsidized by income, sales, and property taxes, and the fuel and licensing taxes are a joke. yet you encourage these people to believe that somehow they are paying their way, and that cyclists are not? almost every day I have to contend with some motorist whose carelessness threatens my safety, and if I try to engage in any dialogue, all I get is this nonsense spewed back in my face. your faux survey serves no purpose other than to stir the pot. thanks for nothing.

    Reply

  14. If this were my city (Phoenix) – my first reaction would be "heck no!" – however, considering the financial mess the state is in, I think it might be a good idea. Only if the funds went directly into improving road conditions for bicyclists here and create more jobs.
    We have the year round weather for the sport, but few roads which can accommodate cars and bikes together.

    Reply

  15. Hi,

    Agreed, i think the issue is people tyring to find things to tax, cyclists do not use many resources, nor put a strain on the traditional road infrastructure so sure tax them but seriously its pennies on the dollar for the damage they do. i would eventually like to see a small tax/fee on new bike sales that go to state organisations to help with cycling infrastructure and development, if it was accountable and tied to cycling work, i think many cyclists would be in favor of it. but again what we really dont need us the us vs them mentality that this advert seems to present.

    Reply

  16. Another thing that the good people at WebTrends may not be aware of, but should try and learn more about: anyone who braves American streets and roads by bicycle for a sufficiently long spell (in Portland where I live and everywhere else I’ve ridden in the US, too) has to contend with more than their share of belligerent and sometimes violent motorized maniacs. Putting up an ad like this helps to stimulate the venom of these already dangerous, antisocial individuals. I personally profoundly DO NOT appreciate this.

    Reply

  17. this was forwarded in an email discussion on the Shift-list. I would take the advice and remove the link to their site.

    "I couldn’t agree more. They picked an issue that would be a hot button for those who cross paths with the Max train and are exploiting those who are upset enough to respond via viral marketing networks like twitter and facebook, thereby expanding the reach of their brand for free. I seriously doubt that the company gives a rats butt about offending bicyclists. Why? Because getting a few people upset enough to post onlin just creates buzz. And that is what this campaign is about – creating buzz. Like the old advertising adage says, "any publicity is good publicity".

    Except when it’s not.

    Want to reduce the effectiveness of their campaign? Then don’t refer to them by name on any viral networking site. And don’t link to any page that links to their site. That’s just more free advertising for them. Or better yet, refer to their competitors like Coremetrics or Nielson Online . Now THAT is bad publicity.

    Remember, this is about showing their reach to make them more attractive…TO THEIR CUSTOMERS. They made a calculation that offending a few bicyclists is acceptable collateral damage – partly because you are the ones who will create viral buzz that extends their brand, and partly because…well…how many of you are really perspective customers of theirs anyway? But I’d bet a lot of you ARE customers of THEIR customers. Ever eat Kettle Chips, or know someone who does? Well how about letting them know how you feel about this."
    E. Maxwell

    Reply

  18. I hope everyone that has read this here, on the Bicycle Blogs, etc takes note on a few points.

    1. It doesn’t matter what you write on these blogs if you don’t get involved and make sure the politicians don’t vote this abomination of a bill through.
    2. This question, albeit providing grounds for spouting off a lot of opinions and ideals is one thing, but the answer is either YES or NO.

    Even though a lot of people are riled up by it, simply stating no is pretty important. I’ve contacted my politicians, sent letters of reprimand to the advocates of the bill, and more. I hope everyone else has too. If we are to make a Republic work, we have to let our representatives know they are or are not doing their jobs.

    Reply

  19. Adron,

    It seems irresponsible to throw out a leading question like this without providing (either at the same time or immediately afterwards, maybe on the next car) some of the facts associated with the question.

    This "ad" is not only tracking latent attitudes (primarily uninformed about the sources of funds for local transportation projects and the amount of that funding that comes from individuals that self-identify as cyclists), but it is also shaping attitudes and is doing so in a way that implies a solution that isn’t supported by the facts.

    As a cyclist I’m disappointed by the way in which this was undertaken and if I had a need for Webtrends services I would seek out a competitor, not because I’m offended by the political implications of the ad, but because I think it reflected a lack of foresight, poor judgement, and a failure to gather the appropriate background information before acting.

    I hope that Webtrends followup work will be as visible and will correct the mischaracterization that this effort promoted and future efforts will better connect questions floating in the public realm with facts and data that can inform the public discussion.

    Listed below are some links to information about how roads are funded. While federal highways are more heavily funded by the gas tax (paid by many cyclists), state and local roads are predominantly funded using property, income, and sales taxes, all of which most cyclists contribute to on a basis equal to other road users (and most people that ride bikes also drive, walk, and use transit as well). Additionally, bicycle use has a lower wear & tear on the roadway network than motor vehicles, especially than trucks and buses.

    http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf

    http://www.stlbikefed.org/Advocacy/Cyclistspaytaxestoo/tabid/150/Default.aspx

    http://www.txdot.gov/KeepTexasMovingNewsletter/11202006.html#Cost

    Reply

  20. Oh, and by using Twitter you by definition narrowcast your response audience. The population that has a Twitter account is a LOT smaller than the population that has an e-mail address or uses the Web frequently. So this seems more like a way to grow Twitter usage than the appropriate or ideal way to get feedback from the general population.

    Reply

  21. The point is to measure an online conversation, not measure actual general population involvement. Just FYI.

    A great follow up line would be something like, "When will motorists actually start paying their share of road taxes?"

    I think that would be a GREAT follow up. But I could be wrong. 🙂

    Reply

  22. I’m sorry, Adron, but Webtrends messed up on this one.

    For one thing, the ad pre-supposes that cyclists are not currently paying anything at all for the roads. Or, it reinforces the opinion held by many uninformed or misinformed people that cyclists don’t pay anything for the road space they use.

    The problem with this is that when I ride, I am still the same person as when I drive– as in, I am the same person who owns a home and pays property taxes, is gainfully employed and gets taxes taken out of my paycheck, purchases gas, licenses and registers my car, pays for insurance… there is no separate "me" who rides and doesn’t pay for anything.

    Seeing as how the money I pay in income taxes and property taxes, as well as the money I pay in gas taxes, goes towards maintenance, reconstruction, and construction of the roads I use, as a cyclist, I already pay for the roads. I already pay a "road tax", using Webtrends terminology.

    Besides: is Webtrends looking to get the state of Oregon to enact a new tax? Currently there is no "road tax" that anyone pays. I would strongly object to having to pay an extra tax on facilities I am already paying for.

    Reply

  23. Adron,

    Amusing. It doesn’t take much to really stir up harsh feelings from the vocal few in the bicycle community. What is even more interesting is the persecution complex that they seem to have. Is it martyr syndrome that leads people to bicycle commuting, or bicycle commuting that allows the smug self-satisfaction leading to martyr syndrome? Meh. Either way you can really see how gracious and eloquent bicyclists are.

    The bicyclists ranting,

    Seriously? You see this ad as a threat aimed directly at you? Wow. I’m sure as you say, the bicyclists blatantly disregarding the rules of the road, as well as the rules of courtesy are the minority of cyclists, just like the motorists that do the same are the minority. But perhaps your time would be better spent trying to educate your fellow cyclists rather than rant about a dumb ad on the side of a MAX train.

    Until I read some of the posts from more informed and better spoken cyclists, I was under the impression that cyclists did not contribute to the maintenance of the roads and thought that perhaps a tax was a good idea. Reading some of the links has educated me, and I feel now that they are contributing their fair share through income tax.

    I am also now aware of the legislation that Oregon is being threatened with, and feel that it poses an unfair burden upon cyclists, especially those who are cyclists because they are un or under employed, which is one of the directions that the discussion against the law should be directed.

    If cyclists are riding in a safe and courteous manner, then they are not in any danger from most drivers out there. Those drivers that menace cyclists are going to do so regardless of some ad.

    Carl

    Reply

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