Cyclists Pay Their Fair Share

The debate between cyclists and motorists is almost as intense as the one between atheists and believers, right and left, omnivores and vegans and Windows users and Mac users. In a relative world, the debates sets out to prove an absolute point. Nobody likes to be wrong. But we mustn’t forget that some things are based on fact and as sociologist turned politician, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, rightfully noted, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts“.

As a commuter cyclist I am passionately pro-cycling. Whilst I acknowledge the concerns of conscientious motorists when it comes to their views on “bad cyclists” I can’t help but point out their fallacies. There is good evidence to support strong confirmation bias amongst motorists that tar all cyclists with the same brush due to a few bad encounters–whilst failing to acknowledge all the “good cyclists” that they have passed without realising it. No doubt similar confirmation bias exists amongst cyclists too but, based on my own anecdotal evidence, the risky encounters are far more common, dangerous and one-sided.

A fact the motorists get wrong is that cyclists don’t pay their way. In recent months there has been a lot of talk about starting a registration scheme for cyclists, as a way of making them more accountable. This idea fails immediately. Cyclists already pay their way. Motor registration fees don’t even come close to covering expenses. The shortfall is covered by general taxation. Also, it has been suggested that any revenue derived from such a scheme would be entirely consumed by administration costs.

Though written in an American context, Elly Blue, makes some good points for Australians to consider:

“There are many reasons for cities to encourage bicycling, and the economic argument is one of the best. Every time somebody gets on a bicycle instead of in a car, the city saves money. The cost of road maintenance is averaged at 5.6 cents per mile per motor vehicle. Add the so-called external costs of parking (10 cents), crashes (8 cents), congestion (4 cents), and land costs and that’s another 28 cents per mile! Meanwhile, for slower, lighter, smaller bicycles, the externalities add up to one meagre cent per mile.

The average driver travels 10,000 miles in town each year and contributes $324 in taxes and direct fees. The cost to the public, including direct costs and externalities, is a whopping $3,360.

On the opposite pole, someone who exclusively bikes may go 3,000 miles in a year, contribute $300 annually in taxes, and costs the public only $36, making for a profit of $264. To balance the road budget, we need 12 people commuting by bicycle for each person who commutes by car.”

I can’t imagine the case to be much different here in Australia. It’s not as though our bikes do any more damage to the roads than the ones in America. Likewise, I am sure our roads are of a similar–perhaps better–quality. The fact is, and I think this premise is quite self-evident to most people, bikes do less damage to and take up less space on the road. And for the sake of costs, encouraging people to cycle is of paramount importance.

On some things motorists and cyclists will remain divided. However, cyclists do not freeload. They pay more than their fair share. That’s a fact.