When motorists believe they’ve paid for use of the road, they can be dangerous

Some motorists believe cyclists are lesser beings, and shouldn’t get in the way of cars. Why? Because of the shockingly widespread belief that cyclists don’t pay for roads.

In fact, we do. We all do. Everybody pays. Every tax-payer, that is. Road maintenance, road building and road design are all paid for out of general and local taxation. Motorists do not pay for roads. Road tax does not exist, has not existed since 1937. It’s now car tax, vehicle excise duty, a tax on emissions.

In the Spring edition of ‘Good Motoring’ from GEM Motoring Assist, columnist Jane King said cyclists were “itinerant road users.”

Hating on horse riders, too (they also ‘get in the way’ of cars), King wrote:

“You’d think that cyclists, being at one with the elements, would be able to deal sensibly with [passing motorists]. Unfortunately, certainly of late, this group seems to consist of real and exacting enthusiasts who behave as if every training trip is a stage of the Tour de France. And, as such they have a narrow blinkered vision of how the road should be used at that moment – which is purely for them. The motor vehicle must, and will, take at least second place. Sorry – who pays road tax, exactly?”

Such ignorance of what and who pays for roads can lead to violence against anybody not in a motorised vehicle. There are legions of examples of motorists abusing cyclists for “not paying road tax.” (Although horse riders don’t get tarred with the same brush: it’s obviously a money thing. Some motorists assume anybody on a bike is a pauper, and can’t possibly own a car, too. Which is daft because cars can be pretty cheap, a lot cheaper than decent top-flight bikes, for instance).

In Brazil on Friday, one motorist took the law into his own hands and smashed into a peaceful, beautiful Critical Mass ride.

This helmetcam footage is horrific, showing a speeding VW Golf ramming its way through 150 cyclists.

Brazilian drivers pay Imposto sobre Propriedade de Veículos Automotores or IPVA, our equivalent of VED. However, this site for Brazilian newcomers calls it a ‘road tax’.

Who knows what went through the mind of the 47-year old male driver seen causing the carnage in that footage? He was held up for a few minutes by folks on bikes and he suddenly lost it, rear-ending unsuspecting cyclists in a few seconds of madness. Apologist commenters on YouTube videos of the incident have said he had a sick passenger in the car and was desperate to get past the cyclists, who were blocking just one road among many in this Brazilian city.

Do those who decry Critical Mass as “irresponsible” say the same about fuel protestors who block roads? Or how about taxi drivers blockading London for an hour? “We are sorry that we have to block the streets to make our voices heard, but we feel we have no other option,” said a London cabby last year, who very possibly rants when he sees the few minutes of disruption caused when Critical Mass rides past.

Thankfully, it appears none of the hit cyclists were killed, but they could have been. Many were badly injured and there was an ugly, sickening pile of smashed bikes. The driver absconded, but not before reportedly removing his number plates. So, did police chase him down? No, they are waiting for him to turn himself in, a promise made by the 47 year olds lawyer. In Brazilian media reports, the police are still calling the carnage an “accident.”

Back to the UK…
Motorists do not own the roads, nor do cyclists, or equestrians. We all have the right to pass and re-pass on public roads. Those motorists who truly believe their annual car tax payment is a fee to use roads are 100 percent wrong. Some who believe this, begrudgingly allow cyclists to “share the roads, paid for by motorists” but who knows how many close-shaves – the buzzing of cyclists – is due to this mistaken belief? Too many. Way too many.


iPayRoadTax.com is an ironically-named campaign supporting the road rights of cyclists. The message that cyclists have equal rights on the roads is carried on iPayRoadTax t-shirts and jerseys.

One Less Car: why drivers should love cyclists

Travel time considerations by car or by bike

One of the reasons some motorists abuse cyclists is because bicycles are generally assumed to be slow (except by the Daily Mail which says cyclists are speed-crazed demons) and so shouldn’t be taking up road space, road space paid for by motorists. Now, this site is all about how roads are NOT paid for by motorists, but by all taxpayers. Road tax doesn’t exist: it was abolished in 1937.

But let’s get back to road space. Instead of hating on cyclists, motorists should be showering us with love. Why? For every car not driven, that’s a huge piece of real estate taken out of the road space equation.

Economists measure this is in Passenger Car Equivalents. PCEs indicate the traffic impacts of larger vehicles compared with a typical car.

Larger and heavier vehicles cause more congestion than smaller, lighter vehicles because they require more road space and are slower to accelerate. Large trucks and buses tend to have 1.5-2.5 PCEs, depending on roadway conditions. Buses may carry loads of passengers but, from a driver’s perspective, they have a waddling PCE of 4.4. A people carrier imposes 1.4 PCEs, and a van 1.3 PCEs.

Bicycles, on the other hand, have svelte PCEs of 0.28. Cyclists can speedily flit in and out of traffic like ‘bike salmon’, as BikeSnobNYC puts it, and cause next to no congestion ripple effects.

‘Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis II – Congestion Costs 2009’ from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute Australia includes this table from transport academic Todd Litman (author of Whose Roads?):


It summarises congestion factors for bicycles. The authors conclude that “Bicyclists probably contribute relatively little congestion overall…”

“Compact and electric cars, vans, light trucks and motorcycles impose about the same congestion costs as an average car. Rideshare passengers cause no incremental congestion. Buses and trolleys are considered to impose twice, and bicycles 5 percent the congestion of an average car.”
Todd Litman, ‘Bicycling and Transportation Demand Management’: Transportation Research Record 1441, 1994

So, if a bicycle causes just 5 percent the congestion of an average car it would take a large peloton of riders to cause gridlock. Just such a peloton is formed at Critical Mass protest rides. But a Critical Mass ride isn’t static: far from it. It ambles along at about 8mph or more, and is quickly somewhere else. Critical Mass tends to be last-Friday-of-the-month-monthly; car-caused congestion is daily and endemic.

Another peloton, of course, is the bunch of road bike riders out for a spin, normally at the weekend. But these are recreational riders, aiming for country lanes. Daily commuter cyclists – the sort drivers will see in towns and cities each day – are solo riders, they never hunt in packs. Not that there’s anything genuinely congestion-forming by a big bunch of road riders. For a start, they’ll be going fast, 20-25mph or more. When a bunch deems that conditions are safe to overtake it, riders invariably string out: there’s no benefit to having an impatient car trailing the pack.

Sadly, many motorists wish to be going fast for every millisecond. Commissioner Kevin Weir of the Isle of Man, for instance. In a proposal to register all bicycles on ‘Mark Cavendish Island’, Mr Weir said roadies “ride four in a row, they will not drop behind, a motorist gets annoyed and overtakes in a bad spot, they have an accident and the cyclists race on.”

Come again? The motorist overtakes in a bad spot and it’s the fault of the cyclists? Mr Weir’s ideas – including compulsory hi-vis jacket wearing – look likely to be adopted by the Isle of Man, leading to a rush of comments to the local newspaper. Cyclist Andrew Roche said:

“If I’m driving and come across a slow moving vehicle like a road sweeper, or hedge cutter, or even a horse I don’t get in a rage and start blaring the horn, I just wait and pass it when it’s safe. Why? Because it’s not a major issue. I might have added 30 seconds to a minute onto my journey. If someone can’t wait that long to get past a group of cyclists who are riding sensibly, then maybe they should seek anger management.”

The time-enemy of drivers isn’t cyclists, it’s other drivers. Getting more folks out of cars and on to bikes would be a good thing for those motorists who refuse to have anything other than a windshield view of the world.