As local governments do a bit of belt-tightening, budgets get cut and funding for bicycle programs are one of the first to get the axe. This seems rather misguided, as bicycle safety programs for children and adults, as well as billboards and PSAs that raise awareness of cyclist’s rights, are fundamental to educating both cyclists and motorists on how to safely and legally share the road.
One solution being proposed right now is a tax on bicycles. This would be a point of sale tax on all new bicycles. A flat tax makes a lot more sense than licensing bicycles or cyclists, which would cost more to administer than than the revenue it would raise. Currently, the city of Colorado Springs collects $4 on every bicycle sold, from $79 big-box and X-Mart bikes, to those sold at bicycle shops as well. This provides roughly $100k in funds to be used for cycling programs.
On the plus side, there would be funding for critical advocacy programs, as well as events like bicycle safety rodeos for children, with this money coming directly from cyclists. It might also change the perception that cyclists get a free ride, so to speak, as they are using publicly funded roads seemingly free, as many motorists mistakenly think their vehicle registration is what pays for the roads we all share. (The truth is, funding for roads comes from a mixture of federal funds via income tax and local funds via sales tax)
Possible arguments against the tax include the financial burden this might place on students and low-income families. Of course, an additional four or five dollars should not be a deal-breaker on a new bicycle, even one that lists for 80 bucks. And I suspect that those that can least afford a new bicycle are probably buying used anyway. I know that our local classifieds are populated with perfectly serviceable rides for under $100, and kids bikes can be had for $25 all day long. Would this tax cut into the sales of accessories? Perhaps. But the bike shop I once worked at offered a discount on accessories with every bike purchase, plus a bundled helmet, water bottle and patch kit at very close to cost with each new bike. Surely a $5 voucher towards accessories would alleviate that small burden. This wouldn’t work for non-bike shop purchased bikes, but then again, plenty of cities offer free helmets to children in low-income families. Would a city tax on bicycles send sales to surrounding cities instead? With gas prices being what they are, I doubt it.
So what amount is a fair tax? And how should it be used?
Feel free to share your comments, for or against.