‘Road tax for cyclists’ proposal kicks up stink, again


In the summer of 2009, a civil servant is believed to have added a line to the Scottish Government’s Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS) consultation document. This line – no doubt innocuous to the bright spark who inserted it – kicked off an almighty stink in the Scottish press and totally obscured the positives in the rest of the document, which was meant to be about finding ways of increasing cycle levels in Scotland.

The line in question was: “Should all road users pay road tax? If so, how much should it be for cyclists and how could it be enforced?”

Almost as soon as it was raised it was shot down by politicians, civil servants and cycle campaigners alike but, as journalists like a good fight, the issue was flagged in Scottish newspapers and, today, has been flagged again thanks to the release of the responses to the consultation document. True to form the positives in the responses document have been ignored, with the Scotsman newspaper instead focussing on just one issue: road tax for cyclists.

iPayRoadTax.com is all about the fact there’s no such thing as ‘road tax’; motorists do not pay for roads, we all do, via general and local taxation. Road tax was abolished in 1936. It’s now Vehicle Excise Duty. The Scotsman journalist appears to know none of this. And, of course, nor do the majority of those commenting on the online forum. Sadly, some of the commenters see the cyclists’ mythical non-payment of ‘road tax’ as a mortal sin, worthy of severe punishment.

Gdgy wrote: “If they don’t pay road tax then we should be allowed to shoot [cyclists] when they break the rules.”

Trolling for effect perhaps but, as many cyclists can attest, the threat of violence from motorists who claim they pay ‘road tax’, and cyclists don’t, is not unusual. Many motorists believe VED is a tax that pays for road building and road maintenance and therefore those that don’t pay ‘road tax’ have fewer or no rights to be on the road. Clearly, this is nonsense. For a start, cars in Vehicle Excise Duty Band A pay a big fat zero yet motorists don’t clamour to ban Toyota Prius models from the roads

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On 8th January, the Sustainable Transport Team at the Scottish Government published Cycling Action Plan for Scotland: Analysis of Consultation. Report author Dynesh Vijayaraghavan said:

“For many respondents, a road tax on cyclists was seen as a bad idea, pointing out that cyclists did not pollute the air or damage the roads, and already contributed to the roads budget through general taxation. The idea of all users paying tax was also criticised on the basis that its premise meant pedestrians and child cyclists would also have to pay. It was pointed out that a tax on cyclists would be inefficient to collect.”

“A lot of respondents pointed out that the current system of taxation is based on emissions and that either by this logic or by the logic of taxing according to damage done to roads, cyclists would not qualify for any form of tax. Some respondents went further in pointing out that even current taxes on cars don’t actually account for all externalities caused by driving. A considerable number of respondents also pointed out that many cyclists own cars and pay Vehicle Excise Duty in any case.

“Most respondents pointed out that cyclists did not emit any pollutants and that by cycling they were making a positive contribution to congestion and the environment. A number of people pointed out that roads are damaged far more by cars and Heavy Goods Vehicles than cycles as damage to roads is proportional to the weight of the rear axle of the vehicle. Some respondents even felt cyclists could be given rebates on the basis that they were contributing in a good way to society.

“If such a tax was implemented, most respondents were worried that administrative costs would be more than what the tax raised. A number of people pointed out taxing on the basis of road damage would mean the level of tax would be between 2p and 10p thus making it completely inefficient to set up a system to collect this tax.

“It was also pointed out that road maintenance is paid for from general taxation and cyclists contribute to this via Income Tax, Council tax, VAT and so on. Furthermore many respondents felt that the term ‘all road users’ would by definition have to include pedestrians and child cyclists, thus making it unlikely a tax of this form would be accepted.

“A number of stakeholders and all Local Authorities who responded were also against any form of cycle tax.”

All fine points, and all of them discussed at length on iPayRoadTax.com. The subsidies afforded to motorists are also discussed on Do the Right Thing and CyclingInfo.co.uk.

But these points need to gain wider acceptance. In September last year, an editorial in the Scotland on Sunday, somehow managed to link ‘road tax’ for cyclists with the perceived smugness of cyclists:

“On the face of it there is merit. Cyclists use the roads, why should they not face a tax as other road users do?

“There is perhaps even a view, half in joke and full in earnest, that a minority of cyclists’ cavalier attitude to the rules of the road would mean that the move would find favour among the non-cycling electorate. But that would be as wrong a reason for deciding on tax as simply deciding to tax on smugness alone.”

The issue of a tax on cyclists is one that raises its head often. Last year a web analytics company in Portland, Oregon, plastered a commuter train with the question “Should cyclists pay a road tax?”. This led to a storm of protest The web analytics company knew this would happen: Portland has a large population of cyclists. Jonathan Maus, editor-in-chief, of Bikeportland.org, said raising the issue of ‘road tax’ for cyclists was deliberately divisive and could ignite passions against cyclists from some motorists: “this type of thing can have a tangible, negative impact on public safety.”

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