Yesterday, a member of the Transport for London Board tweeted that "cyclists, as cyclists, paid nothing towards the cost of the roads." It was then inevitable that he would bring up the non-payment of ‘road tax’ by cyclists (abolished in the 1930s) and the ill thought through arguments about compulsory bike registration and insurance.
Rather than rehash the well-worn rebuttals about how much general taxation pays for roads, how many cyclists are also drivers and how many drivers are exempt from what the motorheads mistakenly still call ‘road tax’; I would like try a different approach.
Why don’t we focus on what cyclists don’t contribute to? Here's a few suggestions. I'm sure others can suggest many more.
1 – Congestion – a cyclist is someone not taking up a seat on a bus or tube or tram, nor in a car.
2 – Pollution – bikes at point of use are clean vehicles and don't emit poisonous fumes that spark off asthma attacks and strokes in people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions.
3 – Ill-health – bikes (apart from a relatively rare collision) don’t contribute to long term damage to the health of others and the premature death of over 7,000 Londoners per year.
4 – Damage to roads – they certainly don't wear out the roads like motorised traffic, such as HGVs.
5 – Hospitals/Doctors’ surgeries – cyclists are generally healthier than the rest of the population and ease the burden on the NHS.
Of course cyclists contribute in lots of positive ways, apart from paying taxes. For example they make our city a more pleasant place to live. The campaigns to make streets safer, reduce speeds and reduce traffic are all making things better for pedestrians too.
I wouldn’t deny the importance of arguments about who pays what taxes, but we shouldn’t forget how a switch to cycling inherently makes the lives of others a tiny bit better. Whether TfL Board members appointed by Boris Johnson can grasp that reality, is a different matter.