The Oregon state legislature is currently debating whether to tack on an additional tax on bicycles, ostensibly to fund bicycle infrastructure like off street bike lanes. This is a really bad idea hatched by lawmakers who are probably convinced that we cyclists are getting a free ride at the expense of the motoring public. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that’s beside the point. This law, if it passes, will do little other than harm Oregon’s bicycle dealers, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in today’s contracting retail world.
There’s a simple, real world reason that bicycles aren’t licensed and taxed. Due to their relatively low economic value, the costs of administering such programs would typically far exceed the revenue brought in. Besides, bicycles offer all sorts of economic benefits. They are lightweight and don’t damage roads the way cars do. They also don’t have tailpipes, so there are no expensive emissions to mitigate.
Laws that raise the cost of cycling serve as a barrier to entry for people who can least afford it. Lawmakers in this case acknowledge as much. That’s why bicycles that cost less than $500 are exempt. I wonder how many bicycles are sold in Oregon each year that cost more than $500. The state’s population is just over four million people, which means that roughly 400,000 Oregonians bicycle regularly. If 10% of those people buy a $1,000 bicycle next year, that would be 40,000 bicycles subject to the tax. That seems high, but we’ll run with it. Given a surtax of 5%, that means the tax will raise a measly two million dollars and I think I’m being way generous here. It’s simply not worth it. This law has nothing to do with raising money. There’s no money here to raise. It’s about something else.
Oregon claims to be bicycle friendly, but this law is about as far from bicycle friendly as you could possibly get. Taxes like this are not only spiteful, they’re also short-sighted and self defeating. If Oregon is serious about funding transportation, the solution is to encourage rather than discourage people from getting on a bicycle.