Tuesday, October 28 2008 @ 09:07 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
by Brent Hugh, Ph.D.
When the question of on-road bicycling comes up in Missouri, a common question that is asked is: "Why should we allow bicycles on the road at all? Bicyclists don't pay for the roads they are riding on, do they?"
But let us consider only one aspect: Do cyclists pay their way?
Some argue that roads are paid for entirely by user fees such as gas taxes, automobile registration fees, and the like. The argument goes that cyclists don't pay these user fees and so they shouldn't be allowed to use the roads.
Is this true?
Consider the facts:
1. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA), 92% of the funds for local roads--the ones most often used by cyclists--come from property, income, and sales taxes. Bicyclists pay these taxes just like everyone else does.
2. FWHA calculates that 92% of federal highway funds come from user fees. But 8% come the general fund, so even a bicyclist who owns no car contributes to federal highway funds, too.
3. It is often said that the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is funded completely from road user fees. As a sweeping generalization this is true, but in fact 45% of MoDOT's funding comes from the federal government. A portion of this federal contribution comes from the general tax fund. Because of this, 3.6% of MoDOT's operating budget comes from general taxes. Again, even the non-car owning bicyclist contributes to MoDOT's operating budget.
4. In the end, all roads must be considered as a complete, interconnected network. Considering the road network as a whole, about 2/3 of the funding comes from user fees and 1/3 from general taxes. Again, our hypothetical non-automobile-owning cyclist makes a contribution.
5. Many services associated with the roadways are paid out of general tax funds. Examples: police, fire and ambulance services, traffic court, subsidized parking. A typical household pays a few hundred dollars per year towards such services. Bicyclists pay for a share of these services just like everyone else does.
6. Design improvements needed to make roadways more bicycle-friendly are generally inexpensive. Roads constructed to modern design standards are quite bicycle-friendly already--improvements like wider lanes and shoulders are included to improve safety for all road users and are not bicycle-specific. The bicycle-specific expenses in good road design are few: bicycle-safe grates and traffic signals that detect bicycles (and motorcycles), for instance. Such expenses may cost a few thousand dollars in projects with budgets of a few million.
7. Bicycles have a very low impact on the roadway. One study found that bicycles impose about 0.2 cents per mile in roadway costs. Bicyclist pay no user fees so the entire 0.2 cents/mile comes from the general tax fund.
What about motor vehicles? They impose an average of 3.9 cents per mile in roadway costs while paying an average of 2.5 cents per mile in user charges such as fuel taxes and motor vehicle registration fees.
The difference--1.4 cents per mile--comes from the general tax fund. So both bicycle and motor vehicle road use is subsidized from general tax revenue. This is fair, since both bicyclists and motorists pay into the general tax fund.
But bicycles have such a low impact on the road that their subsidy is actually quite low--the general tax revenue subsidy for a cyclist who rides 5000 miles per year is only about $10. ...