Oregon’s “Bike Tax:” It’s Not ALL Bad

Recently, Oregon passed a $15 flat tax on the sale of adult bikes.  State government promises to use the added revenue to ramp-up cycling infrastructure in a state already known as “bike friendly.”

Cyclists across the country, on the other hand, are up in arms about the message this sends, especially in a place like Portland where over 7 percent of residents commute by bike.  The notion that a governing body would tax an alternative form of transit that has tremendous health benefits and less infrastructure impact than cars has many citizens questioning the stance the state is taking.  The frustration is rooted in the idea that a tax works to discourage the use of a particular item or service, even though in this case cycling has shown to have health, infrastructure and even socioeconomic benefits over other forms of transit.

For the most part, I agree that this law might not have the right mindset here.  I agree that raising taxes on automobile use and/or purchases would be a far better alternative, discouraging driving while encouraging a much more sustainable non-taxed cycling network.  But here are a couple points that bikers in Oregon should be happy about with regard to taxing two wheeled, human powered machines.

Governments Tax What’s Popular

Governments, like it or not, are going to tax anything. I’m not saying I’m ok with it, I’m simply saying this not the end of the world. And the money will be going to improved cycling infrastructure for the state.  But most of all, cycling for transportation has become such a way of life in parts of Oregon that government recognizes it as something they can legitimately make money from.  State cyclists should be thrilled that they have created a culture so popular that the state government wants to benefit from it, like pretty much everything else.

State Government Is Now On The Clock

While the rest of the country begs our cities like the Orphan Oliver for more porridge for better bike infrastructure, cities like Portland can now hold their governments accountable for a continued plan of improvement.  “It’s just not in the budget,” or “engineers didn’t think it was possible to put a bike lane there” are no longer going to fly with the people of Oregon.  Like a homeowner who pays property taxes, the Oregon cyclist can now demand cycling infrastructure improvements from their officials, or vote for someone else who will get the job done.  Suddenly, bikers in that state have a real world “contribution versus return” argument that must be heard and respected.

Conclusion

Do the above “positives” outweigh the discouraging message that the $15 Oregon bike tax sends to it’s residents?  I would tend to say no.  It still sends a clear message that cycling is not seen as a preferred alternative despite its countless benefits.  But it does show just how influential cyclists have become in places like Portland, and as backwards as it may sound, this tax shows that biking as a means of transit is becoming a formidable and respectable mode of transit once again.