It’s a funding idea that’s often talked about but has rarely been implemented nationwide. And it’s getting a mixed reaction from the bicycling community in Oregon.
Brad Welch works as an IT manager in Eugene. He’s been commuting to work by bicycle for more than 30 years, rain or shine.
“It’s a way to wake you up in the morning, and kind of wind down after work when you leave,” he said.
Welch spoke to OPB when he stopped in at Hutch’s Bicycles in downtown Eugene for a quick fix of his brake handles. He said he wouldn’t mind it if the state taxes bicycle sales, since the money would be used to improve the ride for bike commuters like him.
“Everybody winces when they have to pay a little bit more,” he said, “but overall if I know it’s going to a good cause, I’d certainly be willing to do it.”
The bike tax is still being debated at the state Capitol, but the current proposal would tack on anywhere from 3 to 5 percent to the cost of a new bike. Under the current version of the plan, the tax would only apply to adult bikes, and only those that cost more than $500.
The money would be dedicated to building and maintaining off-street bike paths, especially those used by commuters.
The funding idea was the talk of the morning back in the repair shop at Hutch’s.
“It’s gonna hurt bike shops’ sales. It’s gonna put businesses out of business that are mom and pop bicycle shops,” said mechanic Mark Lipchick. “A lot of people are going to be out of work, as a result. It’s really kind of silly.”
But Lipchick’s colleague, Cary Adams, said he can see the need for better bike routes, even in a bike-friendly city like Eugene.
“Overall, I think it’s not a bad thing,” said Adams. But he said he wishes some of the money would be used to enforce traffic laws relating to bicyclists.
For instance, Adams said most of his preferred routes around town already have bike lanes. But his way is frequently blocked by vehicles parked in those lanes.
“Then all of a sudden we’re forced out into traffic, and then cars are mad at us even though it’s a car that’s making us do this,” he said.
Around the corner at Wheelworks Bicycle Shop, owner Bill Cole said at a rough estimate, the bike tax would cost his customers at least $18,000 each year.
Still, Cole said as a bike shop owner he can see the benefit to giving potential customers more places to use the product he’s selling. He’s just not sure he trusts lawmakers to follow through.
“The idea of having money going directly to support bicycling I think is a good idea. But once a tax gets started, it never stops. And it only increases,” said Cole.
“We feel it’s not an effective way to raise revenue,” said Kransky. “There’s not a lot of money in the bike industry and so we won’t be able to generate the kind of dollars from a bicycle excise tax that would really have an impact on building new transportation infrastructure.”
But, if it does happen, Kransky said he wants to make sure the money is spent on the promised upgrades to bike routes. And he said the group might end up supporting the transportation package as a whole, especially if it includes funding for public transportation upgrades and safety improvements for pedestrians.
Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, helped craft the bike tax proposal. He said it came in response to a common refrain among lawmakers and the public.
“They felt that bicycles ought to contribute to the system, bicycle owners ought to contribute to the system, irrespective of the fact that most of them also own a car,” Beyer said.
As for the cost, Beyer said the tax needs to be large enough to generate significant revenue above the cost of collecting it. But, he added, the fact that it’s in there at all means bike riders are now among the state’s transportation priorities.
“There’s a pretty big commitment to bicycle commuters in the (bill), and to the extent, we do that, there are certain environmental advantages to do that. And it does address congestion to some extent as well,” he said.
If the transportation package passes as it is, Oregon would be the only state with a statewide tax specifically for bicycles, though it’s been proposed in many places, including Washington.
Some cities around the country do charge bicycle owners a registration fee.