“Cyclists don’t pay road tax, they shouldn’t be on the roads; roads are for cars.”


It’s not just right-of-Genghis-Khan taxi drivers who spout such piffle. Sensible and otherwise sane motorists also like to trot it out. “Why should my road tax pay for cycle facilities or bus lanes?” is another common complaint.

Yet road tax doesn’t exist. Hasn’t done since 1937. Those little perforated discs pay for Vehicle Excise Duty. VED for short. It’s not a road tax, it’s a car tax, a tax on vehicles with motors. (Not all vehicles subject to highway rules and regulations have motors; bicycles, for instance).

Vehicle Excise Duty is based on the level of a vehicle’s tailpipe emissions. The bigger and more carbon-wasteful the car, the more the car’s owner pays for a VED licence (perhaps it should be renamed Vehicle Emissions Duty?).

Cars which spew less than 100g/km CO2 don’t pay any VED so should motorists be seeking road bans for the VW Golf BlueMotion or the Toyota Prius because, just like bikes, they are “tax avoiders”?

Scot Cops' Road Fund Boo-Boo

Scot cops’ VED boo-boo: “You must have a valid road fund licence”
iPayRoadTax.com was so-named because very few people know the difference between Vehicle Excise Duty and road tax. Even MPs, Government departments and police forces don’t always know the difference, as the screen-grab above shows. Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary even mention the ‘road fund’, an entity that has been pushing up the daisies for the best part of 70 years.

Every citizen has the right to use public highways for free; and that includes motorists, equestrians, wheelchair users, pram pushers, pedestrians and cyclists. Vehicle Excise Duty does not pay for roads and nor does it assign any greater rights for VED payers to use those roads.

Many motorists fume when held up for a millisecond on “their” roads by a vehicle that doesn’t apparently contribute to the upkeep of said roads. Cyclists, it’s often voiced, are ‘tax-dodgers’. In fact, the majority of adult cyclists in the UK also own cars. They just choose not to use them for every journey. Motorists ought to applaud such two-wheeled altruism: less cars on the road means less congestion for all.

If VED doesn’t pay for the roads, what does? That’ll be general taxation and council tax. So, even cyclists who don’t own cars are paying for the roads, and for road services. This gives cyclists no more right to the roads than motorists. We’re all equal in law. As general taxation pays for all roads, cyclists pay for a type of road they can never use: motorways.

Asphalt nation
Motorists may be surprised to learn that the tarmac they so love wasn’t spread on the UK’s dirt roads for the benefit of cars. In fact, it was lobbying from 19th Century cyclists – who wanted smoother surfaces to ride along – which hastened the black-topping of Britain.

The country motorised rapidly during the post Great War period and successive Governments ploughed cash into slapping tarmac on Britain’s ancient network of highways. It wasn’t until the 1950s and beyond that lots of new roads were created. Prior to that, existing roads were given weather-proof surfaces but they had long been used by pedestrians, carts, horses and, from the 1870s onwards, bikes, and only much later still, cars.

To pay for the tarmac, the Government created the Road Fund in 1910. Money from this pot went direct into road improvements. This is called ‘hypothocation’, a posh word for ring-fencing, when a charge goes direct to a cause it’s said to be fund-raising for.

While the Road Fund monies went direct into the road improvement pot, not enough money was raised to pay for all the commissioned improvements. For a start, there weren’t that many paying customers. Then, just like now, road ‘improvements’ were heavily subsidised from the public purse.

Cyclists, it can now be seen, are not interlopers on roads paid for by the motorist. Some people might even argue that cycling ought to be State-subsidised: using a bike reduces congestion and pollution; bikes and their riders are featherweights, causing negligible wear and tear on road surfaces; and cyclists are healthier so, with less degenerative diseases, are less of a burden on the NHS. Paying cyclists to cycle? It’s not such an odd concept, after all, motorists are subsidised to drive. Motorists may feel beleaguered because of fuel price hikes, congestion and a crumbling road infrastructure but, in real terms, driving has never been so cheap. The true costs of motoring are never met by motorists directly. Fuel duty and vehicle excise duty doesn’t go anywhere near to ‘paying for the roads’.

The 1920s Road Fund, paid into only by motorists, was abolished because there were fears – well founded fears, it turns out – that motorists would believe the paltry sum they paid each year was the whole amount required by the State and this therefore gave motorists more right to use the roads than those users who didn’t pay. The politician who, in a parliamentary debate in 1926, had the foresight to realise this was a Toad of Toad Hall worldview was a certain Winston Churchill. In 1937, when he was chancellor of the exchequer, he abolished the Road Fund (quick, somebody tell Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary).

  • http://twitter.com/JobySp Joby Poby

    Now you can't argue with the Winston now can you!

  • http://twitter.com/bassjunkieuk Mark Skrzypczyk

    I have 2 cars and pay a rather sizeable VED on the family car, but the company car is only £16 per year. Using this logic does that mean I have less right to drive my Prius around then the family car just because I pay less tax on it?

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    VED confers no rights whatsoever. It's a charge with the cash going into Government coffers; it pays for nothing directly, including roads.

  • http://twitter.com/bassjunkieuk Mark Skrzypczyk

    I know VED doesn't confer any right but I was trying to make an analogy amongst different cars and their associated VED contributions, FWIW the family car is an older MPV so we pay over 10x more for the VED on that. I was using the same logic that car drivers apply to cyclist i.e. “You don't pay towards the upkeep of roads so GET OUT MY WAY!” to make a comparision between the two :-)
    I'm a fully fledged cycle commuter so the company car is used mainly by the wife to ferry kids around during the day, whilst I can get into/out of central London in under an hour and have an absolute blast doing so :-)

  • helenst

    As you correctly point out, VED does not confer any particular right to use the road. So what benefit is there to highlighting the fact that some cyclists also happen to pay VED?

    The message of this campaign appears to support the idea that VED gives you a right to be on the road. It appears that you are trying to bring yourself and other car-owning cyclists “up” to the level of the motorist, thus questioning the validity of those of us who do not own a car.

    I would love to see an end to the ridiculous and ill-informed road tax argument that comes from some motorists but I really don't understand the logic behind this campaign.

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    “The message of this campaign appears to support the idea that VED gives you a right to be on the road.”

    Completely the opposite. Please read the headlines, the standfirsts and the articles. Oh, and the Tweets.

    The jersey will also have text about why this assertion is not the case.

  • helenst

    Sorry, I have been reading the content of this site and various related tweets. I just haven't seen anything yet that convinces me otherwise.

    Whereas there are plenty of very valid points on this site (Churchill, road tax not actually existing, zero emissions cars not paying VED, general taxation funding most of the roads) – you then have this as the bio of the @iPayRoadTax twitter account:

    “Cyclists who own cars (& that's most of 'em), pay VED.”

    and from your FAQ:
    “the iPayRoadTax concept is to highlight that many cyclists also own cars so pay so-called ‘road tax’”

    and the first line of the first paragraph on the front page of this site:

    “The majority of adult cyclists own cars.”

    Why bring that into the discussion at all, let alone give it such prominence in this campaign, if there is no link between VED and right to use the road?

    As you go on to point out on the front page: “Whether you pay VED or not, cyclists have every right to be on the road!” and quite rightly so.

    But then… “Highlight the fact you pay VED with a growing bunch of products.” – Why should anybody care whether or not I pay VED if I'm riding a bicycle?

    The message here appears to be either very convoluted, very confused or very clever. Please accept my apologies if it's the latter.

  • the che

    simple. unite, make out (although not believing) we have more right over others to use the roads, be it cyclists, pedestrians etc. Uniformly and grouply start destroying items which govern our driving, traffic lights, speed cameras, pedestrain crossings cycle lanes. The government would rather create a tax exemption for drivers then put right all doings of angry drivers. Its not like the government has ever changed the law for the benefit for themselves.
    Power in numbers.

  • the che

    simple. unite, make out (although not believing) we have more right over others to use the roads, be it cyclists, pedestrians etc. Uniformly and grouply start destroying items which govern our driving, traffic lights, speed cameras, pedestrain crossings cycle lanes. The government would rather create a tax exemption for drivers then put right all doings of angry drivers. Its not like the government has ever changed the law for the benefit for themselves.nPower in numbers.

  • julietmikealpha

    In addition to the ‘road tax’ rant from motorists I’d love to know where the other common issues (like keep to the left or road priority) come from. I recall my driving instructor teaching me that while I’m driving a car then I’m quite far down the hierarchy of road users and to give way (extra room, time, etc) to those higher up (wheel chairs, cyclists, pedestrians and other traffic). The highway code still supports this so why are the formal guidelines lost in favour of everyday ‘rules of the road’?

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Your driving instructor was one of the enlightened few, I’d say.nnMind told me to “get up to the speed limit as fast as possible” so as not to cause delay and aggravation from drivers behind.nnHowever, I remember my uncle (he really was called Bob) telling me his driving instructor drilled pupils with this question: “Where does the white line lead to?”nnAfter a dramatic pause, he said the answer was “Danger.”nnThere ought to be many more sections in the Highway Code about ‘sharing the road’ and perhaps even why roads are not funded by motorists but by all taxpayers, including cyclists!

  • Reddevilsnr

    Can anyone tell me why cyclists cant and dont pay any form of insurance or have a certificate to say that their cycle is fit for the road who pays for any damage to a car if the cyclist runs into it and puts a dent and deep scraches along it. AND WHY CHILDREN ARE ALLOWED ON THE ROADS ON BICYCLES. u00a0Dave.

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    DavennMembers of CTC, British Cycling and other bike orgs and clubs get third-party insurance as part of their membership package. nA great many home insurance policies also include third-party insurance as part of the policy. nSo, lots of cyclists are insured.nnI believe the figure for number of motorists who drive uninsured hovers around one and a half million, with this number increasing in recession as some motorists feel this is an expense can risk not paying. nChildren are allowed on the roads on bicycles because roads – except motorways – are for everybody not a subset of the public.

  • Anonymous

    You have to appreciate risk and how it is represented via different transport types. Motor vehicles have been proven to cause damage and death and represent a higher risk due to their weights and speeds.nnA 20mph bicycle imparts far less force in physics terms than a 20mph Mondeo due to the nature of weight.nnLets look at some broad figures:n- 32 million motor vehicles, mostly privately owned carsn- 13 million cycles used regularly, though more likely this figure is about 5-7 million on the road (many like to ride on trails and mountainbike, etc)nnThe broad figures for KSIs are:n-motor vehicles – about 3000 deaths a year, 200,000 injuriesn-bicycles – 1 death a year, 200 or so injuries to others (the vast majority of these happened in the road)nnOn that basis we can see where the risk is coming from and why a higher standard of care and attention is needed.u00a0nnMore concise information here:u00a0http://www.ctc.org.uk/resources/Campaigns/1110_Cyclists-behaviour-and-law__4M__brf_rev_.pdfnnLots of info here too:u00a0http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15975720nhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/nov/18/road-casualty-uk-map?INTCMP=SRCHu00a0nnAll of this is not to absolve cyclists of any responsibility – if a Police officer suspects a bicycle is unfit for purpose then they have every right to pull over the cyclist and have a chat. They do sometimes do so:u00a0http://road.cc/content/news/49145-brakeless-bmx-boy-found-guilty-dangerous-cycling-after-knocking-woman-unconsciousnnIf a cyclist is proven to have damaged a car through no genuine fault of the driver (and it does happen) they can be held liable. Liability is different to insurance, an insurer will simply mitigate against or defend from liability/damages (excepting the criminal which the Police and Courts should deal with). A cyclist can still end up in smalll claims court, or sued by a driver or their insurer.nn