Who should pay for cycle infrastructure?

No-brainer answer, really. Taxpayers should pay, and the money should come from the consolidated fund, i.e. the national coffers, as administered by the Treasury. This is how roads are paid for. All roads – including motorways – are paid for by all taxpayers.

Many motorists believe there’s such a thing as ‘road tax’ and that it pays for building and maintaining roads and is a type of fee to use roads; cyclists are deemed to be “road tax dodgers” even though many cyclists also own cars and millions of motorists don’t pay for their car tax discs ‘Road tax’ ceased to exist in 1936/7 and even when it existed it paid for mostly road maintenance rather than the building of infrastructure. Infrastructure for the exclusive use of motorists wasn’t built until 1958 and was funded from the national purse.

As motorists don’t pay directly for roads – vehicle excise duty and fuel duty goes straight into the consolidated fund – why should cyclists pay for cycle infrastructure? Do pedestrians pay for pavements? Infrastructure in the UK is paid for by the Government and local authorities, using monies raised by taxpayers. To suggest, even for a millisecond, that cyclists should be a special case and should pay for dedicated infrastructure is unworkable and unfair.


So why is The Times suggesting this? On a survey – ‘Have your say on the future of cycling’ – the ‘cycle safe’ section of The Times there’s an odd question: “How should cycling infrastructure be funded?”

Why even bother to ask this question? There’s only one answer, and that’s the top one: “Existing taxes.”

UPDATE 1: I DM’ed Kaya Burgess of The Times suggesting that ‘road tax’ wasn’t the best of terms to use and the phrase was quickly changed to ‘excise duty.’ My point still stands: cyclists shouldn’t have to fund cycle infrastructure and the whole question is spurious.

The rest of today’s ‘cycle safe’ coverage in The Times is top-notch, as I reported last night on BikeBiz.com. The new parliamentary inquiry is especially welcome, and the appointment of Professor Phil ‘Peak Car’ Goodwin to write the follow-up report is inspired.

I shall be submitting written evidence to this inquiry, seeking recognition that cycle infrastructure must be paid for out of the consolidated fund. Any talk of ‘road tax for cyclists’ or ‘corporate sponsorship of infrastructure’ is likely to lead us up the garden path. (I’m not against, say, the Nissan A19 cycle path but such sponsorship would ever pay for some go-use-the-path marketing, it would never be enough to pay for surveys, road building equipment, kerbs, tarmac, signage and on-going maintenance).

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UPDATE 2: DMs and snarky comments on surveys clearly work…The Times today carries a story about the funding of cycle infrastructure, and why this funding should be via existing taxes. Kaya Burgess wrote: “The maintenance of public highways is not funded by Vehicle Excise Duty paid by motorists but out of general taxation paid by everyone, including cyclists.”

Many people tell me that the issue of ‘road tax’ is small beer; that the ‘no pay, no say’ crowd is tiny and inconsequential; that criticising any parts of The Times’ brilliant cyclesafe campaign is snarkiness of the highest order. To that, I say the devil is in the detail: how to fund all the infrastructure being proposed by The Times will become a major issue. Let’s not get side-tracked by any talk of a special user-pays fund for cycle infrastructure. Proper cycle infrastructure, built to Dutch-standards, will cost billions of pounds. It’s national infrastructure, not infrastructure that could ever be paid for by users.

Upon reading an earlier version of the above, Girl in Train agreed with it, adding “But I might pay a toll for a high quality off-road path, in same way as I pay for Dartford Crossing or M6 toll in car.”

Good point. But does that mean we should have toll booths on high-quality bike paths? Is that how Dutch folks got such great cycle infrastructure, users paid for it directly? No. Anyway, the M6 toll isn’t exactly a rip-roaring success, and pay-infrastructure, such as the Dartford Crossing or the Tyne tunnel, is rare. 99 percent of the roads and bridges built in the UK were paid for by taxpayers and general and local taxation should fund future cycle infrastructure. While a full-on, Netherlands-style cycle infrastructure would cost billions, over a number of years, this would still only be a fraction of what the Government happily spends on infrastructure for cars.

As The Times rightly says “the bicycle is the future”. Some of the taxpayer cash that would have gone on cars should be diverted to measures that will tame cars, instead.

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Road tax doesn’t exist. It’s car tax, a tax on cars and other vehicles, not a tax on roads or a fee to use them. Motorists do not pay directly for the roads. Roads are paid for via general and local taxation. In 1926, Winston Churchill started the process to abolish road tax. It was finally culled in 1937.

The ironically-named iPayRoadTax.com helps spread this message on cycle jerseys. Car tax is based on amount of CO2 emitted so, if a fee had to be paid, cyclists – who are sometimes branded as ‘tax dodgers’ – would pay the same as ‘tax-dodgers’ such as disabled drivers, police cars, the Royal family, and band A motorists, ie £0. Most cyclists are also car-owners, too, so pay VED.

  • http://twitter.com/1dangerouself MarkDangerousElf

    The UK “road tax” argument sounds EXACTLY like the “gas tax” argument in the USA.  Both ideas are deluded, neither program is sufficient for the purpose believed, and in both cases, motorists use them to try to eliminate cyclists from the roads they are entitled to use.  

    What is it about the private auto that causes such insanity?

  • Giles Pargiter

    Whilst I agree with nearly all of this article and have often had to explain the taxation position to fellow tax payers, I think a fundamentally root point is being completely missed here:
    We have a right to freedom of movement.
    We have a right to exercise this as; pedestrians, by horse, or as cyclists.

    The original reason why (please correct me if you know better) using mechanically powered methods of movement was made a privilege, subject to strict criteria was because:
    They brought with them a completely new and elevated range of hazards to other highway users. So this should be mitigated as far as possible by ensuring they are operated by competent users who are capable of making adequate reparation in the event of an accident. Subsequently these vehicles are additionally required to meet certain safety standards in themselves (Mot), with the same aim in mind. This privilege can be withdrawn if they fail in this.

    So; to even suggest that cyclists (pedestrians, or horses) should be specifically charged in any way for their movements, is to suggest (IMO) a very serious curtailment of our civil liberty, ie. you have to have money to move.

    I would propose that the very fact that a separate infrastructure for cyclists etc. is being proposed and unrolled is de facto evidence that mechanically powered users are causing such an elevated hazard that they are failing to properly meet their responsibilities.

    By extension, as in a few European and other countries; if they are involved in an accident with a pedestrian, horse or cyclist, it is automatically their fault; because if they had not taken on the responsibility of operating a potentially hazardous machine the accident could not have happened.

    One could take the view that as they are posing such a tremendous hazard to others and thus failing to meet their responsibility, – they should have their privilege withdrawn until such time as they rectify the position.