08 January 2008

In which I write another post about cars

My dad is an auto mechanic, among other things. Those of you who took Psych 101 in college are probably having a field day right now. Eh, whatever. You only know me through this thing.

Anyway, here is dad's new car:

I posted about dad's new car here because it's such a lovely counterexample to the theory--which I hate--that cars are Real Transportation used by everyone and therefore vitally important, while bikes are only recreational devices used by a tiny fringe minority, and therefore bike facilities don't deserve such a huge (as perceived by drivers) piece of the budget pie. (Hey, does anyone happen to have a pie chart handy? I'd love to see how tiny our slice really is.) A similar argument is that bikes don't deserve anything at all because transportation infrastructure (i.e., roads, to most people) is funded in part through gas taxes, which bicyclists don't pay because they don't buy gas. (This argument also crops up a lot when your local public transportation system faces an imminent funding crisis. It's been an interesting year.)

Some people will go so far as to claim that bicyclists shouldn't even ride on the road because they don't contribute any revenue for road building. My dad tried to argue that the other day. I hate to say that I let him win, but I did let the argument die because, well, he's my dad. It's not that I'm afraid of upsetting my dad, it's just that arguing with my dad is sometimes like arguing with the television.

CycleDog, in response to a debate in the LA Times on bike facility funding, calls this an old, tiresome argument. I call it infuriating but necessary. I don't get to argue with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation or a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, I get to argue with people like my dad, and frequently. And if I asked people like my dad where bikes are supposed to go if they shouldn't be on the road because they don't pay taxes but bike trails are a waste of those taxes, what would they say?

Actually, I don't know what they'd say. They might just ask me why I don't just drive like everyone else. And I'll reply that gas is too expensive, and they'll counter that, well, of course gas is expensive, what with all the money wasted on bike trails. (And public transportation. And Amtrak. Well, that's the government for you.)

So here's a question that I'd like to ask people like my dad: Given a choice, would you rather pay to keep us bicyclists off the roads or begrudge us to use them along with you? Think very carefully. "No bikes at all" is not an option, no more than "no cars at all."

Once we have an answer to that question, then perhaps we won't need to debate it way up at the policy-making level.

I'm thinking this through as I write it. Other thoughts?

In similar news, this.


At 08 January, 2008 21:36, Blogger Ed W said...

I say it's a tiresome old argument because I've been hearing it for over 30 years. And I do believe the intent is to make owning and riding a bicycle a PITA so there will be fewer of us on the roads. Licensing and insurance proposals have similar intent.

But consider motor vehicle licensing schemes. Some levy a tax based on weight or horsepower. Some levy a tax based on the presumed value of the vehicle. And others simply levy a flat fee.

Taxing bicycles on weight, horsepower, or presumed value would bring negligible monies into state coffers. (Well, maybe not weight. I'm kinda hefty.) What could we expect if we paid some kind of registration or licensing fee? Would it eliminate the conflicts between cyclists and motorists? I don't think so. Would it deliver cycling facilities or amenities? Doubtful.

I suspect any attempt to place taxes on bicycles would be nothing more than another nuisance tax, bringing little or no benefit to cyclists, and in many cases, delivering little benefit to local communities and taxpayers. My own town, for instance, still has a bicycle registration law on the books, but it's ignored because it costs more to administer than it brings in.

Think if it this way, if I were faced with an onerous fee to register my bike, say, $50 per year, I could argue that it's an abnormally high percentage of my vehicle's worth. My 10-year-old Bianchi is worth maybe $250 at best. Would we levy a similar tax of 20% or more on a motor vehicle? After all, that would be fair.

It's late. I'm rambling. And it's time for bed.

At 08 January, 2008 23:48, Blogger Jennifer said...

See, this is why I like utilizing trails and parks--gosh darn it, aren't I paying for them already? I might never buy gas, but the sales taxes alone around here are quite ridiculous. May as well try to get my money's worth.

I wish more people had this mentality. The sense I get is, why should drivers pay for things that drivers don't use, especially considering that there are so many more of them? But you pay for stuff you don't use all the time. (Heck, sometimes it's even voluntary. I really ought to cancel Netflix.) Taxing a bicycle and calling it fair would be silly, but I wouldn't be adverse to paying, say, Wisconsin's state trail fee. Makes more sense than paying five bucks a month to have a phone line. Why am I living in Chicago again?

Anyway, it's one thing to see a professional argument maker attempt to present a reasonable cost-benefit analysis; it's another to hear a tiresome old argument from a tiresome old guy whose favorite tiresome old rebuttal is to remind you how much your college tuition cost. I guess I'm just young and angsty.

At 09 January, 2008 02:12, Blogger Georg said...

Hey Jennifer,

This car looks great and red is my favorite color. But at the same time this splendor looks like a very thirsty gas gazzler.

Never heard of Psych101 but I imagine it enables you to realize that a car is more than a simple means to bring you from A to B.

My wife recently bought a Volkswagen Polo Diesel and it goes 54,7 miles per gallon (4,3 liter for 100 km).

Here in Western Europe, especially in the northern part, the cities are proud to invest in biking facilities in order to decongest the town centers. In towns like Paris, Berlin etc. free bikes are available in the center.



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