No Free Rides for Cyclists

Dangerous bike lane on Pender - 100820081717One of the frequent objections by those who complain about the city directing any resources into cycling infrastructure (read: bike lanes, but also any other type of improvement) is that cyclists don’t pay their way. Why should cyclists get any improvements when they freeload on the system? After all, they 1) Don’t pay for the roads, 2) Don’t pay insurance, 3) Don’t pay licensing fees.

Tired of hearing this often vitriolic claim? Here’s why it’s all utter bunk.

Let’s start with a simple question: how are the roads funded? In Vancouver, there are two types of roads when it comes to funding (Well, at least two. I’m not an expert here): Those the city pays for entirely (local roads) and those that are partially funded by Translink because they’re part of the “Major Road Network”.

The local roads are funded by the city, through property taxes. Property taxes are paid at different rates by property owners: residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional. Often I hear that “cyclists are renters, renters don’t pay taxes, therefore cyclists don’t pay for the roads!” This is a logical fallacy, a non-sequitur. First, of course cyclists are renters. 55% of everyone living in Vancouver rents. Cyclists are also property owners. Claiming only renters cycle is the first absurdity. However, even if cyclists were only renters, claiming they don’t pay property taxes is the second absurdity. Landlords pay the property tax directly, but to think that they don’t take that tax money from their tenants is to be willfully ignorant. And, that’s just residential property taxes. Due to the nature of cycling, most cyclists are local. They spend money locally. Commuting cyclists work locally. They go to local colleges and universities.The places they shop, the places they work, the places they learn pay property taxes too.

A few roads are partially funded by Translink. Translink derives its income from: property taxes, fuel taxes, parking taxes, and a power levy. The power levy is paid by every BC Hydro customer. Additionally, Translink gets revenue from transit fares and bridge tolls. Out of this revenue, Translink funds some road and bridges, transit, AirCare, and covers its operating expenses and debt servicing. Roads and bridges account for 8% of Translink’s expenditures whereas transit operations accounts for 60%

A very few roads also receive provincial and/or federal support. This funding, of course, comes out of sales taxes and income taxes.

What about insurance? It’s true that most recreational cyclists don’t pay insurance (although almost all sport cyclists do through Cycling BC), and all motor vehicle operators do. This also is a non-sequitur. The Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) is a provincial crown corporation that takes its revenue from insurance premiums, both for the mandatory basic coverage, and additional optional coverage. For the most part, ICBC’s expenditures go into paying out insurance claims and operating expenses. ICBC is also responsible for driver training and vehicle licensing. Occasionally, ICBC teams up with another party to reduce its costs by improving road safety. These may be education programs, targeted police programs, or other programs targeting reducing accidents (which has the benefit of reducing insurance claims).

Note that ICBC doesn’t build roads. Insurance claims and license fees don’t pay for roads, they pay for some of the consequences of operating a motor vehicle.

So, the short answer is that in Vancouver, roads are almost completely paid for by property taxes. Cyclists, in fact, tend to be subsidizing the road network *more* than motorists. See this Vancouver Sun article from almost three years ago. And, by the way, I haven’t even touched on the measurable reduction in the cost of providing public health care associated with people riding their bikes.

What about pedestrians? They’re not paying for those sidewalks, are they? Maybe we should put tolls on sidewalks. And license (and insure) pedestrians. Silly statements, right? Then why aren’t the same statements pertaining to cyclists equally as silly?

Truth is, they are.

4 Responses to “No Free Rides for Cyclists”

  1. Yes – the idea that specific taxes or state profits can be traced directly to related expenditures is a fallacy. I think this argument of “you don’t pay insurance/property taxes” is just an embittered last ditch attack by those who have swallowed the blue pill of expensive car-ownership and home-ownership and want to feel justified in their debt-creating decisions.
    However it does highlight the fact that private interests do overlap with politics, and where there is an incentive of profit, it’s just rational that more resources will be funnelled to maximize those. I don’t know what the numbers are, but I’m sure there is a significant profit made by the city by ticketing driver infractions. The less drivers on the road the more the city stands to lose money. Therefore I think it’s safe to expect that with Vancouver’s growing cycling infrastructure, we should expect a keener eye on cyclist’s from police if rider numbers climb exponentially. But this is probably 10-15 years away at least – if 2-wheeled transportation really takes off en masse.

  2. Jason says:

    What of the financial support given the auto industry? How much governmental largesse does it take to support the likes of GM Canada – who look to be coming around for another handout soon, btw.

  3. rundrd says:

    Oh how on always look forward to the cycling posts that do nothing but stir up controversy!

  4. Ken Ohrn says:

    When people study this seriously, the conclusion is always the same. Motorists are subsidized; peds and cyclists pay too much.