ANSWER: Do bicyclists’ pay for roads?

You’ve probably read it before, often in the comments sections of the Free Press and Detroit News – cyclists don’t pay for roads, motorists do.

Of course that includes the assumption that because one group pays for something, the other can’t use it. Like schools. Residents, businesses, and even the DNR pay school taxes for children to… oh wait… bad example.

It also assumes all cyclists aren’t motorists at other times.

Taxpayers subsidize road funding

But the reality is everyone pays for roads. Yes, motorists pay registration fees and fuel taxes, but they only cover a portion of the road funding.

At the federal level, a 2007 study found that motorists fees and taxes cover 51% of road costs nationwide. With Congress unwilling to increase the federal fuel tax, inflation has eaten up a third of its buying power over the past 19 years. The result is Congress has been adding general tax dollars to the transportation fund for years to close the gap.

And now Governor Rick Synder is doing the same. The Free Press reported that the Governor wants to put $110 million in general tax dollars into road funding. Like Congress, a majority of state legislators don’t want to raise motorists’ fees to cover road costs.

Any guesses where the ARRA stimulus funding for transportation came from? It wasn’t the federal fuel tax.

Free public parking. Minimum parking requirements for developers. Public lighting. Our billion dollar combined sewer overflow issues exasperated by roads and parking lots. Who pays for those? Everyone.

Of course most of our road right-of-ways were acquired and initially improved well before state (1920s) and federal (1932) motorists fees were created. In fact the movement to improve roads, the Good Roads Movement was led by bicyclists.

Bicyclists subsidize motorists

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute takes this discussion a step further, taking a comprehensive look at road funding and all transportation costs.

From their report, Whose Roads? Evaluating Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Right to Use Public Roadways:

Although pedestrians and cyclists do not pay special road user fees, they do help pay for the sidewalks, paths and roads. Only about half of roadway expenses are financed by user fees. Half of all roadway costs are financed by general taxes, which people pay regardless of how they travel, and this portion is increasing. Although a major portion of highway expenses are financed by motor vehicle user fees, they fund only a small portion of local roads and traffic services. Because they are small and light, pedestrians and cyclists impose much smaller roadway costs per mile of travel than motor vehicles. Motor vehicle use also imposes a variety of external costs, including parking subsidies, congestion, uncompensated crash and environmental damages. Because they tend to travel fewer miles per year, they impose far lower total costs per capita than motorists. As a result, people who drive less than average tend to overpay their fair share of transport costs, while those who drive more than average underpay. As a result, pedestrians and bicyclists tend to subsidize motorists.

Final Answer

Bicyclists not only pay their fair share for roads, they help subsidize motorists.

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One Response to “ANSWER: Do bicyclists’ pay for roads?”

  1. Andrew Mutch Says:

    This is also true at the local level. In Novi, the city has a road millage that pays to maintain and reconstruct roads and streets. A small portion of that also goes to sidewalks and bike paths. The city is asking voters to increase that millage because the amount the city currently collects doesn’t adequately cover the cost of maintaining the city’s huge network of roads and streets. That means everyone who pays property taxes, not just motorists, would be paying for that increase, if approved.

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