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
~ * Don’t forget to check out my store!

22 thoughts on “Cyclists Must Pay their Fair Share to Use the Road

  1. Your taxation system can’t be that much different than Canadian municipalities:

    My taxes –paid at provincial and federal tax authorities already pay for road instrastructure managed federally and provincially. It depends on the road.

    and my property tax pays for the municipal roads, which includes those with bike lanes. My property tax also pays for bike paths that are managed by our Parks dept. I’m sorry, as a cyclist I’m paying MORE than my fair share. Calgary’s cycling infrastructure dollars each year is only….10% of the entire municipal transportation budget, that includes our transit system.


    • Thanks for the info. I don’t know anything about the Canadian tax system, but my guess is that there are big differences (just look at the difference in health care). But again, I really don’t know.

      And, actually, based on what you said it might be similar. The conclusion is the same: cyclists actually pay out more than their “fair share” — if that’s how people even want to look at it! Everyone benefits from something like biking infrastructure; I don’t think the same can be said for so much of the space being dedicated to cars.


      • Very cool!

        And my comment wasn’t to say that I think you’re wrong. It was more of me saying in a snarky way that I’d be surprised if we are same because Canada is usually so much better than the US :)


  2. Glad you are back. I miss the comic.

    This is brilliant – the most reasoned position I have heard on this subject. I could not agree more. I have been paying taxes in all flavours for over 40 years and have frequently objected to how my hard earn money has been put to use. Cyclist already pay for the infrastructure just like drivers, walkers and all the other users. And, tell me again the relationship to cable TV. The argument makes no sense. Chicago is fortunate to have your reasoned voice! Good for you for speaking up!


    • Thanks :) I do too! Hopefully I can get some up soon!

      And, wow! Thank you! :) I must say, though, that I have to give most credit to Elly Blue and her work–in particular the information about how cities profit off of cyclists.

      And the whole cable TV … yea I really don’t know. I think she was just thinking out loud…

      Thanks so much for all your positive words!! =) means a lot!


      • Ms Idealist! I awoke to numerous comments on your post. You have struck a sensitive nerve. I would suggest you share your post and related comments with your mayor. The real cost of having cars on the road is astronomical, particularly if you consider related health care costs. We need to find ways to encourage more cycling! Vancouver has a supportive city council. They are pushing for more bikeways and separated bike lanes. I am always surprised by the amount of opposition to their plans. This discussion puts the real cost into perspective. Thank you for that.

        There was an item on the local news about a dedicated cyclist who over the past decade (or more) has cycled more than 400,000 km. He doesn’t drive. Appears very healthy. I wonder how much he has saved taxpayers. We need to be compensating him (and others like him).

        Next week is “Bike to work week” in Vancouver – an excellent opportunity to continue this discussion.


      • haha :) Ms. Idealist :)

        You know what, I will contact him. People tend to be very vocal about things they don’t want, and much quieter on things with which they agree. Even though he’s already brushed this idea away, it would still be a good idea to contact him in support of his position. I very much want to encourage his bike policies.

        That is quite amazing! I agree, cycling has all those extra benefits and savings: health and environmental (which are linked–I just read a report that said pollution from cars is more fatal to us than car crashes!)

        Hope bike to work week goes well over by you! I never participate here because I work from home :) But I bike to other places and am slowly becoming less dependent on using a car (I don’t own one anymore, but still need to borrow one from time to time). I’ll get there!


  3. Great post! Pols will always chase what is popular as oppsed to what is right. Everyone loves TV, so nobody wants to be associated with raising the price of that. Biking, on the other hand, is an easy target.


    • Maybe politicians choose what is popular, but lately it seems as though they really stopped caring about that. (Thinking about the whole government shutdown thing). I definitely agree that cyclists are an easy target, because there is usually a safe bet that most people will be against them. Except, she rides bikes and seems to have a bike-friendly record!

      But you’re right: keeping the price of TV watching low is sure to keep most people happy.

      I think the whole thing is just odd. It was her thinking out loud, perhaps, and now she backed herself into a corner.

      Thanks for commenting :)


  4. Read the comments section of the Seattle times on any cycling story and you will see many people proposing this! I own a car and therefore pay my share. When I ride, I am not using the share I pay for, so I agree, where’s my refund! I want to know how many of these people who want this fee idle their cars in the McDonalds drive through getting the super sized meal and a diet coke……


    • Wellllll, actually, just by owning/using a car you are not paying your fair share.

      You (any driver, obviously not just you!) are costing the city a TON of money, and they have to take it from all sorts of sources just to make up for it. So anyone who pays rent, owns a home, buys things that gets taxed and so on–their money is also being used to subsidize the cost of driving.

      So, no. the license fees and plate fees (and city stickers, when applicable) for using a car are just a drop in the bucket!

      Which is why this is so absolutely ridiculous! If anything, taxes should be raised on cars because they aren’t paying their fair share yet!

      But yea, I’m not surprised so many people are for this because they don’t understand how much cars actually cost and really do think they’re paying their fair share through gas, license fees, registrations. They also want cyclists regulated or something like that.

      The important thing is to not let their inaccurate, fear-based opinions magically turn into facts and then influence our laws.

      But people often call me an idealist ;)


  5. “We should look out for low-income people whose only affordable form of entertainment is cable” – WTF?

    It is bizarre the mentality that some public administration officials have towards cycling. How about they increase excise on infrastructure damaging, polluting motor vehicles. Or is the argument against that one that they wouldn’t want to damage the economy.

    Good thing that Rahm Emanuel has some sense


    • I know, right?! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do think we have to look out for each and I am VERY MUCH for social welfare programs. Her argument, however, just doesn’t flow logically.

      Bizarre is the perfect word for proposals such as these. I agree–vehicles cause the most damage, to the point where it’s barely (maybe not at all) sustainable. If anyone should see an increase in taxes, it should be them!

      And yes, the mayor has a proven record for wanting to promote bikes. I don’t agree with other things he does, but when it comes to bikes he is fantastic!

      Thanks for commenting!


  6. Pingback: Today’s post, in which we discuss the anti-bike biased, and breaking the law in the name of good | BikingInLA

  7. Brilliant! Thankfully over here no one has (as far as I’m aware) suggested that we have to pay for the privilege of cycling. But we do get people insisting that we should be licensed – nevermind the logistics of it all – and that we have no right to be on the roads as ‘bloody cyclists, you don’t pay road tax!’

    Err…yes we do. What they call ‘road tax’ is actually vehicle excise duty, which is calculated based on the vehicle’s emissions. Even if a bike was liable for VED, we wouldn’t have to pay any as bikes don’t create any emissions. Road maintenance is paid for out of general taxation, and has been since sometime in the 1930s when ‘road tax’ was abolished. There’s a rather brilliant website all about it, where you can even buy jerseys with the slogan on it :-)


    • Ooohhh thanks for the link and for posting! A road tax actually sounds like a good idea, being based on emissions! Fantastic! Bad name though, should have been called Pollution tax.

      Or, “You’re Destroying the Earth tax”

      And there was more I could say. I didn’t touch on the whole registration thing, or even the part where she wants to mandate a 1-hour safety education course.

      It was just too much :)

      I’m definitely going to check that website out!


  8. Your position is very sensible and well-reasoned. As I am sure you noted, Dowell’s response tiptoes around any direct engagement with the essence of the issues you present. If she thinks that $25 is a fair annual fee for bikes, I’d like her to compute an analogous fee for motor vehicles on a cost-per-mile basis, assessing wear and tear on the road surface, parking, congested roads, carbon emission, etc. if she did, she’d have to charge every car and truck thousands of dollars. She doesn’t seem to realize that every single person who decides to cycle instead of drive is making a huge gift to the city. Chicago should subsidize every urban cyclist $25 annually. But of course this is not really about fairness or improving the city, it’s about raising revenue right now.


    • That is exactly what I stated in my email (in my own words, obviously). And when I received the generic copy/paste, I emailed her again with the basic same idea–do the math!

      So I agree 100%!

      Exactly–let’s not use the word “fair” when that isn’t what it’s about!

      Well said!


  9. CYCLISTS like every other citizen already pay TAXES to the government and city part of this has always been spent on roads but cyclists don’t cause the wear and tear on the roads!


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