Let’s Talk About the Bike Tax

Last week, the Oregon legislature approved a landmark transportation package bill which Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign into law. The package dedicates $1.3 billion to biking, walking, and public transit over the next ten years – and that’s a big deal for Oregonians.

The statewide transportation funding package includes a record investment in the Safe Routes to School program, which allows kids to get to and from school safely and easily, be they on foot or riding their bike. It also invests $70 million to providing Oregonians with accessible trails for cyclists and hikers to use while enjoying our state’s pristine environment. This bill’s passage is a historic victory for cycling, walking, and transit advocates and puts Oregon on the map as a national leader in accessibility and active transportation.

That’s not to say this package is perfect. In fact, it contains several provisions which we dislike and have fought back against, including a $15 bicycle tax we worked hard to exclude from the final bill.

Like so many active transportation advocates, we are no fan of this tax. We never were. Can we say this? It sucks. The bike tax is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem, and we share the concerns of bike shops, cyclists, and others who will be affected. When it comes to the transportation challenges our region faces, we all know that bicycles are part of the solution. At the very least, this tax sends the wrong message to those trying to help.

For many years, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now The Street Trust) has been playing defense on similar proposals to tax bicycles or charge cyclists registration fees. Such proposals have come up virtually every session in the legislature – and we’re proud of the work of advocates in preventing these policies from becoming law.

This legislative session, before the first draft of the transportation funding package bill was published, we grew concerned about the level of interest we were hearing from legislators about seeing a bike tax included in the larger transportation funding package. We reached out to our network of Oregon bike business leaders and to a national bike industry group, People for Bikes, to alert them of what we were hearing, and host a discussion about the impact of a bike tax and how Oregon bicycle businesses could organize to advocate for a positive solution to funding off-street bike and walking paths. More than 40 Oregon bicycle businesses signed on to a letter opposing the bike tax, and many went much further in their advocacy.

Sadly, many legislators refused to consider supporting this package if it didn’t include a bike tax, leaving us with a difficult choice. In its earlier drafts, the bill included a 3% excise tax on all adult bikes, regardless of their price. As a result of our work and that of Oregon bicycle business leaders, we succeeded in replacing this provision with a flat, $15 tax – less burdensome for small shops to administer, and less expensive for those not traditionally part of the high-income, high-end bike market, such as those purchasing electric bikes or family bikes. In an effort to reduce the impact of this tax on lower-income communities, we also fought to exempt bikes priced under $200. It wasn’t easy, but we won this fight.

In the past, bike tax proposals aimed to place the new revenue in the general transportation fund, allowing it to be used in ways that benefit drivers over cyclists and others. Thankfully, no such provision exists in the transportation package, which directs all the revenue from the bike tax to the ConnectOregon program.

Though unnecessary and disappointing, the total cost of this bike tax is overwhelmingly outweighed by the historic investment in biking, walking, and public transit. While the tax affects many in the cycling community, this revenue helps prevent road deaths and serious injuries for both cyclists and pedestrians across the state.

To be clear, these investments will save lives for decades to come. That’s priceless.

This was also the first time the Oregon legislature has been so receptive to addressing the needs and concerns of advocates. Take, for instance, the record investment in Safe Routes to School. Prior to this bill, Safe Routes to School received just $12 million in infrastructure funding over a five-year period to make streets safe around schools, averaging at $2.4 million per year. Thanks to the passage of H.B. 2017, Oregon is now set to invest more than ten times that in the same length of time – a hard-won victory for kids throughout our state.

It’s also worth noting that the most frequently cited barrier to cycling is a concern over safety, not price. Researchers in both the United Kingdom and the United States have shown that significant proportions of people who have access to a bike choose not to use it due to their perception that doing so would be dangerous. Even in Portland, where most residents wish to ride more often, this perception of danger holds people back from transitioning to cycling as their primary mode of transportation. With this in mind, we expect the package’s bike safety investments to make cycling more accessible to Oregonians.

Rather than abandon our effort to secure these investments in cycling, walking, and transit, we made the difficult decision to support H.B. 2017 in spite of the $15 bike tax.

Let’s be frank: this bike tax is very disappointing. It’s also well worth the investments in bike safety and accessibility. There are more opportunities ahead for us to stand up for our shared priorities and mitigate the negative impact of the bike tax. Together, we’ll keep up the fight to make Oregon the cheapest, easiest, and safest place to walk, bike, and use public transit.

Comment

Comments (2)

  1. Uma Permalink  | Jul 13, 2017 08:29am

    The bike tax is very disappointing. Shops already operate on such narrow margins and the industry as a whole was down nearly 30% last year. The extra long, extra wet spring didn’t help the health of local bike businesses either. Also what bikes are under $200 new? Kids bikes. Not a cash-strapped commuter who is trying to get a decent bike to get to and from their two jobs. Nothing else purchased new in Oregon is taxed. Nothing. If the state was trying to levy taxes to make money they could have instituted a very low sales tax on other good and come out much better off than attacking a population of people who are actively doing a huge part in reducing air emissions and traffic.

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  1. First bicycle tax in nation leaves riders deflated in Oregon... - You-Blog.Club - July 17, 2017

    […] Street Trust, a Portland pro-bike group, praised the overall transportation package while saying that the bike tax “sends the wrong message to […]


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