Freakonomics reports that an Oregonian politician wants to implement bicycle licensing and registration. He says that cyclists use the roads just like cars, but they don’t have to pay a cent towards maintenance. Cyclists’ comments reveal their disgust at the idea but, as an avid cyclist myself, I must confess that I have some sympathy with the proposal.
It is true that cyclists don’t cause as much wear on the road, or take up as much space as cars. There are environmental benefits from cycling instead of driving, and probably reduced health costs too. However, that’s not a reason to exempt cyclists from paying to use roads: it’s a reason why they should pay far less than cars. Cyclists still benefit from much of the road improvement and creation that is done and there’s no reason why they should enjoy that for free. To suggest that we’d have to come up with a reason why cyclists should be actively subsidised by the government. Unless we think that the number of cyclists is sub-optimal, because people prefer to stick with the status quo of driving their car, then I can’t see a reason to subsidise cyclists.
In NZ there is a further justification for making cyclists pay. Road users pay ACC levies to insure themselves aganst injury as a part of their road user charge (not the NZ terminology to make this more accessible to overseas readers). Cyclists have a pretty good chance of being hurt on the roads, given their lack of protection and vulnerability. Since they voluntarily choose to ride, shouldn’t they have to pay the expected health cost of their care when they crash? Otherwise we’re forcing all other people who pay ACC levies to subsidise cyclists’ healthcare.
Obviously the cyclists don’t want to pay, but the benefits to the environment of one less car are not a reason to let them off scot free!