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Why Reintroducing Road Tax Could Put Cyclists At Risk

New tax on vehicles is a major step back for cycling and the environment

Photo by David Cole

“You don’t pay road tax” is one of the most excruciatingly tired catcalls that cyclists are used to hearing when going about their daily business by bike.

Until now, we’ve had the pleasure of, at least internally, explaining that “road tax was abolished in 1937, since then roads have been paid for by general and local taxation.”

Of course, the fact that around 90 per cent of British Cycling members also own (and pay emissions tax on) a car is another useful point. However, the kind of drivers likely to shout road tax related arguments from car windows are probably far from comprehending such a phenomenon as a cyclist who also inhabits their superior-driver-world.

Until the newest about-turn announced by George Osborne as part of the Conservative Budget, drivers paid emissions tax. Low C02 emitting vehicles paid less, some even paying £0 a year, whilst hefty, fuel hungry personal lorries paid up to £500. Since bicycles do not produce emissions, the road tax argument was easily beaten down.

Osborne has now announced that from 2017, emissions tax will be scrapped and replaced with a “road fund”. All new cars will come with a £140 a year vehicle excise duty, and this money will be a contribution to a ring fenced “road fund”. This money will mainly go towards major roads and motorways (which cyclists cannot legally use).

The chancellor explained:

I will return this tax to the use for which it was originally intended. I am creating a new roads fund. From the end of this decade, every single penny raised in Vehicle Excise Duty in England will go into that fund to pay for the sustained investment our roads so badly need… Tax paid on people’s cars will be used to improve the roads they drive on.

None of this changes the fact that most cyclists own a car as well, so will also be paying the same contribution towards the roads.

However, concerns are multiple. Firstly, the move takes us away from encouraging the use of greener, less polluting cars. Extra tax for gas-guzzlers sends a clear ideological message, as well as carrying an off-putting price tag. Secondly, the changes will make drivers believe they have more claim to the road than cyclists, and thirdly, it won’t pay for the cost of driving, anyway.

Owner of I Pay Road Tax and BikeBiz editor Carlton Ried has discussed the worrying new charge, explaining:

In 2012/13 vehicle excise duty raise £6bn. Expenditure on roads is about £9bn per year but this does not include the massive “negative externalities” of motoring, such as the costs of policing, pollution, congestion and road crashes. (Congestion alone is often estimated to cost £30bn a year.) The revenues raised by the new “road tax” will not not be enough to pay for road upkeep or road building and the shortfall will still be made up by general and local taxation, but those motorists who choose to claim that “cyclists don’t pay for roads” have now been bolstered by Osborne’s surprise move.

The move is unwelcome in an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile towards cyclist. Neck high trip wires and tacks on the roads have been two of the worrying trends that are not just antagonistic, but genuinely dangerous.

Ironically, the news comes soon after cycling charity Sustrans demonstrated that infrastructure to encourage cycling could comfortable save around £1 million a day through better health, reduced congestion and pollution.

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