The Last Thing Colorado Needs Is a Tax on Bikes

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

On Wednesday, Colorado Politics reported that Ray Scott, a Republican state senator from Mesa County, will propose a tax on bicycles because “they use the roads also.”

State Senator Ray Scott
State Senator Ray Scott

Scott made clear that he thinks bicycles are toys — not transportation. He compared bikes to boats, which Coloradans do not use to get to work or school, whether in the high desert or in the plains.

“Maybe we should start from the other direction,” Scott told Politics reporter Joey Bunch. “If we’re not going to tax bicycles, then let’s not tax boats, ATVs and every other vehicle out there that already pay all these taxes… how many rights do we give to cyclists that we don’t give to everybody else on the road? I’m asking.”

Bicycle Colorado, the state’s bike advocacy group, promptly pointed out that the whole idea is counterproductive.

“Bicycles are a key part of the solution to the state’s transportation woes, not the problem,” Ted Heyd, policy director of Bicycle Colorado, told Streetsblog. “More people riding instead of driving reduces wear and tear on our roads, which ultimately saves the state money.”

Scott got the notion from Oregon, where legislators caved to resentment politics and passed a $15 tax on bicycles. “We will be proposing something similar,” Scott wrote in a Facebook post.

But the contexts are very different. Oregon’s bike tax was a small concession within a $5.3 billion, 10-year transportation package that also raised the gas tax and taxes on new cars. The package will allocate hundreds of millions of dollars a year to transit, biking, and walking — far more than the $1.2 million that will be raised from the bike tax.

So can we expect Scott to also advocate for raising taxes on driving, enabling Colorado to build out a safe, multi-modal transportation network? Streetsblog’s requests for an interview went unanswered.

Keep in mind that Scott is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee and the Republican-controlled Senate that failed to fund a Colorado transportation package last session via sales taxes.

If Scott were interested in creating a functional transportation system, he’d see the value in bicycles as a tool to help people get around without creating traffic congestion. Instead he’s just trying to score cheap points with the crowd that resents anyone on a bike.

The Oregon bike tax was all about catering to a myth that bicyclists get a free ride, not about fixing the transportation system, said Jonathan Maus, who followed the debate at BikePortland.

“This is an easy way to respond to a false narrative, we all know that,” Maus said. “And this clearly had nothing to do with projects or policy — this was clearly a political thing. They put the bike tax in there to get the votes that they needed to get this thing to pass.”

Maus called Oregon’s tax “a slippery slope” that won’t play out well in less bike-friendly states, Colorado included. “If our goal is to make our system work very well and make it efficient and get rid of all these crises that we have, you’d want to encourage bicycling as much as you possibly can,” Maus said. “It certainly wouldn’t make sense to add what’s essentially a sin tax to this one particular product just to bide for some political votes.”

When Scott is done with bikes, perhaps he can introduce a tax on shoes.