Monday, June 6, 2011

Taxation for Representation?

A tax on new bicycles?  Shouldn’t we be providing incentives for people to ride rather than drive?  After all, isn’t bicycling better for the environment – no emissions, less space consumed for parking, etc?  But as I read about the bicycle tax imposed in Colorado Springs, Colorado it made more sense to me.  People buying a new bicycle in Colorado Springs are charged a one-time $4.00 tax.  This money goes toward City bikeway improvements designated by the City’s Bicycle Plan, with first priority being the construction of off-street bicycle paths. 
The tax was initiated in 1988 during the Bicycle Plan update when Council members and others wondered how the City would fully implement the plan.  The Council, seeing bike facilities as a special benefit to just a segment of the population, felt that bicyclists should pay more of the bikeway costs.  At the same time, the development community questioned whether the bikeways were needed and worth the expense.  Developers also had reservations about being required to set aside land for bike paths without reasonable assurances the paths would ever be built.
According to the Colorado Gazette, the bicycle tax has been very successful.  It generates about $100,000 annually for bicycle projects, and has been used to match federal funds to build a significant number of bikeway projects each year.  The City of Colorado Springs reports that it has broad community support and is politically popular. 

It’s so popular in fact that it has generated more funding to support bicycling.  In 1997 Colorado Springs voters approved a one-tenth of a cent sales tax for trails, open space and parks (TOPS). The TOPS tax generates about $6 million annually and has resulted in the development of almost 50 miles of new trails and the acquisition and/or development of approximately 5,700 acres of parks and open space over the last 11 years. (Source:
Nationally, discussions are ongoing as to how to finance America’s transportation system.  As bicycling is taken more seriously as a mode of transportation and more money is spent on bike related facilities, there’s pressure for bicyclists to pay their own way. 
At the start of the American Revolution, colonists fought against the British to protest against taxation without representation.  In this case, bicyclists seem to be asking for taxation to have real representation at the transportation table.  Is a bicycle tax on new bicycles a good idea for the Capital District?  Will it lead to broader support for bike funding as it did in Colorado Springs?

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