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.

  • TakeFive

    What… a $15 tax upon purchase of a new bike? How awful. /sarcasm font off
    The original proposal was for a 3-5 percent sales tax. BTW, the linked article by Angie received a boatload of comments; I read only a smattering of them but it was fun.

    What impressed me about Oregon’s Transportation Package was they finally realized they were waaay behind on expanding freeways so that will be Job One.

    Gov. Kate Brown, who named a highway deal as one of her three biggest priorities, tweeted that she looks forward to signing it.
    Governor Kate Brown
    Proud and grateful of all those who worked tirelessly on the transportation package. I look forward to signing this critical bill.
    2:16 PM – 6 Jul 2017

  • Camera_Shy

    Better policy would be to pay people $15 who commute on their newly purchased bicycle. This would take cars off the road and alleviate road congestion. Isn’t that a better goal?

  • deadindenver

    The tax is expected to raise $1.2 million, that’s a drop in the bucket for most highway projects. I guess it will pay for the porta potty’s for the construction workers. That little revenue is why it smacks of a resentment tax. You can’t run those bikes of the road, you might get arrested, but dammit we can tax them.

  • Gary Harty

    In Copenhagen, they crunched the numbers and the Ministry determined the city saves 23 cents for every kilometer traveled by bike, but must spend 16 cents for every kilometer traveled by automobile. I agree that cyclists should be compensated, not taxed.

  • Anne Landman

    I apologize for the embarrassing legislators (like Ray Scott) that Mesa County sends to send to the legislature. We’re trying to do better here.