Cyclists Must Pay their Fair Share to Use the Road

The City of Chicago is facing a big dilemma: a $338 million deficit. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has suggested that we increase the cable TV city tax from 4% to a whopping 6%. 

I know, I know. Take a moment to let the devastation wash over you. I’ll wait. 

Alderman Dowell has a plan to avoid increasing the cable TV tax, though: Charge people $25 every year to register and ride their bike in Chicago

Yes. I did say $25, and yes, that would be every year. And, no she hasn’t “really thought it through completely.” She is, however, clear on her rationale. Her two main reasons as to why cyclists should pay $25 every year for the privilege of riding is as follows:

  • We should look out for low-income people whose only affordable form of entertainment is cable; and 
  • Cyclists need to pay their fair share of the road 

Charge Cyclists to Help Those Facing Economic Hardship

I do not understand this argument at all. She wants to provide relief for low-income people who cannot afford to pay for outside entertainment (her words). I am curious as to how she neglected to make the connection between having a low income and cycling for transportation. Besides walking, cycling is the cheapest way to get yourself around. If her constituents cannot afford cable, then what about a car**?

What about people who must bike to get around? How will $25 every year impact them? And before you scoff and think “It’s only $25.00,” consider that 25 bucks is one-third of a yearly Divvy membership.

This is not an either/or in this situation. People aren’t necessarily either a cyclist or a person who has a low income. And I’m not saying that everyone who bikes has a low income, either. What I am saying is that she is clearly neglecting the overlap

Cyclists Need to Pay Their Fair Share 

Actually, I agree on this one***.

We use the road, along with motor vehicle drivers, and so everyone should pay their fair share. In that case, I hope to see my check in the mail sometime soon. I could use a new pair of boots. 

I rent, buy things that are taxed, and have taxes taken out of my income. So, just like any driver and anyone else, I already am paying for our shared infrastructure. With the exception of highways/freeways–that comes out of tolls, gas, and registration/licenses–things that I pay for when I rent a car to use said highways. 

Even better than that, whenever I ride a bike instead of drive a car, I save the city money. The city is making a profit off of me whenever I bike myself around town. Drivers? They cost the city money. Lots of money. ((Please read Elly Blue’s post, link below, A-S-A-P!!!!!))

So…about that check…?

By the way, that is only a narrow focus on infrastructure costs. What about health savings when people bike? Not only is cycling really good for your health, driving in a car is actively destroying your health. Watching TV? That’s just as bad. Why should that be subsidized at the expense of cyclists?

Why don’t we throw in pollution–driving is bad for the environment (and, by the way, our health).  Plus, cars create noise pollution. And we haven’t even touched upon a better quality of life and psychological well-being that often comes bike riding. 

So, then, explain how is charging people $25.00 a year to ride a bike better than saving people about $12.00 on their cable bill every year? ****

Cycling Should Be Encouraged

Bicycling is an investment due to infrastructure, health, and environmental savings when people choose a bike over a car. This should be promoted, not stifled with a registration fee. 

Rahm Emanuel, luckily, also thinks her proposal doesn’t add up. This proposal is not going anywhere. 

Still, I emailed her to voice my concern and I received a generic copied & pasted email from her/her office. It’s included at the very bottom, just in case you are interested. 

**  It is entirely possible that their car is making them broke. It’s expensive to own a car. 

*** I actually don’t agree with this, because quality roads and good biking infrastructure is good even for people who don’t bike. Just like I think it’s good for everyone to invest in local schools even if they don’t have kids. But that’s a post for another day…

**** Calculated based on when I had cable, which was about $50/month before taxes. Not an official estimate… 



(I know I’ve been gone for a while. I promise, I’m still here. Just really swamped. I have lots of ideas for posts, just not enough time. Follow me on twitter @echointhecity for shorter bursts of info! I’ll be back soon, promise!)

——– Reply from Dowell’s office ——–

Thank you for your email. I appreciate your comments and am glad my proposal has generated a healthy debate on its merits and shortcomings.
There is already a bike registration ordinance (9-120-030) in the Municipal Code. It requires the owner of every bicycle, before operating on the public way within Chicago, to register said vehicle with the Commissioner of Police. The registration record contains the date of registration, the make, serial number, model and description of the bicycle registered, the name and address of the owner, signature of the owner, owner’s age, and if such owner is under 21 years of age, the name and address of his or her parent or guardian, the name and address of the person from whom purchased, the date of purchase, and such additional information as the police commissioner may require.
My proposal simply requires an annual $25 fee and one time requirement to take a bike safety education class.
As the city invests in more infrastructure to support cycling (bike lanes of all types, traffic lights, signage) and more bikes are becoming a reality on our streets, it is important that all riders understand the “rules of the road” and pay their fair share as car owners do who pay annually for city stickers, and are ticketed for traffic and parking infractions.
In addition, we have a $338 million deficit in this 2014 budget. My idea seeks to find a new way to help reduce the deficit, hold bike riders accountable on our public way and maintain city services in way that is balanced so that additional property, sales, gas, and cable television taxes are not needed.
Ald. Dowell
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