Dispelling The Gasoline Tax Myth

You may have noticed over the past couple of years that often when a bicycle-friendly article appears in a newspaper or online news journal, anti-bicycle commenters like to throw out this argument: “I shouldn’t have to share the road with bicyclists because they aren’t paying their share for the roads.” I shouldn’t have to point out that the most obvious fallacy with this argument is that many bicycle riders also own and operate motor vehicles and are therefore paying licensing fees and gasoline taxes.

The Florida Public Interest Research Group (FPIRG) recently published a report entitled “Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding” Surprise, motorists: your efforts don’t even come close to paying for the roads you hold so dear.

The Tampa-based Creative Loafing published a rundown of the issues at hand. Among them:

» Federal gasoline taxes were originally intended for debt relief, not roads.

» Highways, roads, and streets have received more than $600 billion in subsidies over the last 63 years in excess of the amount raised through gasoline taxes.

» The amount of money a particular driver pays in gasoline taxes bears little relationship to his or her use of roads funded by gas taxes. Drivers pay gasoline taxes for the miles they drive on local streets and roads, even though those proceeds are typically used to pay for state and federal highways.

Check out the full article by clicking here. To take a look at the FPIRG executive summary, simply click “Do Roads Pay for Themselves?” or click here for the full 45-page PDF. Add it to your advocacy arsenal — it’s nice to have a well-researched rebuttal at hand!


13 Comments

  1. Jeff S January 10, 2011 8:38 pm 

    I say don’t even engage in the debate from that angle. I pay all the taxes that I am obligated to, and am legally allowed on the road. End of story.

    If you want to get technical, I support businesses, buy products, and pay shipping for all manner of products. Every item you purchase has a shipping cost built into it which funds roads. I propose that I likely pay more than my fair share since I persoanlly put no wear on the roads I travel.

  2. scott t January 10, 2011 8:40 pm 

    is that a myth…or just dishonety?? if a bicycle commuter buys a sports drink isnt, built into the cost if the item, a shipping charge and a fuel tax in it???

    are roads subsidized really if they are owned by the govt or just a straightforward govt service???

  3. Ghost Rider January 10, 2011 8:42 pm 

    @Jeff S — to be honest, I rarely engage in ANY debate of this nature. Mostly, I mutter a few obscenities to myself, shake my head and walk away. Just presenting the info for folks who DO like to have a handy rebuttal.

  4. Steve A January 11, 2011 4:55 am 

    I rarely hear that from anybody worth responding to.

  5. Chip Haynes January 11, 2011 5:39 am 

    Oh, man. I get this question from time to time and find myself explaining where the money comes from to build our public roads. The short answer: Virtually none of it comes from the money we pay for our driver’s license, auto tag or the puny gasoline tax. The money comes from property taxes that we all pay (even if we are renting), sales tax when we buy anything, and income tax (federal and/or state). Also, it’s a public road. That means I can use it even if I didn’t pay any of those taxes ever. (Like if I’m here from somewhere else.)
    Contrary to popular opinion, there is no “right to drive” in America. It is a well-regulated privilige, and it can be revoked. You must prove your abilty and pay for the privilege, but even those steps do not grant you exclusive right to the right of way. You must share it. Again, it’s a public road.
    It’s been a very long time since any driver has yelled at me to get my bicycle up on the sidewalk, but when they do, my response is always immediate and loud: “NO.”

    And you know, when the oil runs out, they’re ALL bike lanes.

  6. Ghost Rider January 11, 2011 6:02 am 

    @Steve A — ha! I hear you; in the newspapers that allow online commenting, they tend to draw in the crackpots, windbags and lowest-common-denominators, and the few rational commenters get shouted down by the loons.

    @Chip — amen! bicycle laywer/Velonews pundit Bob Mionske has written at length about motorist “privilege” vs. the fundamental right to travel.

  7. Iron_Man January 11, 2011 8:48 am 

    Shoot, if gasoline taxes did pay for roads, then the taxes in the gasoline that operate my lawnmower and grass trimmer will most likely cover the costs of repairs that my bicycles inflict on the roadway.

  8. Bill Edmonds January 11, 2011 2:26 pm 

    Advocates for cycling need to find a way to quickly address this myth, because it is pervasive.

    If you want public resources, of any kind, to be used to improve conditions for bicycle commuting, then you need to be able to answer the question “But you don’t pay a gas tax, so aren’t you already getting a free ride?”

    The answer is … gas taxes pay only a fraction of the costs of building and maintaining streets, roads and highways. The rest comes from property taxes and other general taxes. So if you live in a home or buy stuff or generate income, you are paying for roads.

  9. Chip Haynes January 11, 2011 5:46 pm 

    Iron Man mentions the “wear and tear” inflicted by bicycles on the roadway, but I’ve found the opposite to be true: The Pinellas Trail has a real problem with plant roots pushing its paved surface upwards since there are no heavy vehicles constantly pounding it down. I find that to be quietly hilarious.

    To me, the best response to drivers who claim we cyclists are getting a free ride is, “It’s hardly free when I have to put up with you.” Of course, by the time I can say that, the car is gone.

    (Lucky me.)

  10. Iron_Man January 12, 2011 9:56 am 

    Chip that’d be tree damage then.

  11. MarkAngelo January 13, 2011 2:06 am 

    As you can see riding your bicycle is not the main problem , you don’t need to pay parking fee, gasoline or whatever, the government has the problem about it, maybe they are thinking about adding taxes to those who use bikes.

  12. Chip Haynes January 13, 2011 6:23 am 

    Ah, but it’s the lack of constant heavy motor vehicle traffic that allows the tree to do that. No constant pushback from car tires.

    A minor point, to be sure.

    It is virtually impossible to inform and educate everyone about the rights of cyclists. You know that. There will always be a segment of the motoring public who choose willful ignorance over understanding, no matter what they are told and no matter who tells them.

    I have no solution to that part of the problem.

  13. 2whls3spds February 5, 2011 5:31 am 

    Chip,

    Even on roads traveled by heavy vehicles tree roots will disrupt the pavement.

    The fact that the trail surfaces are disrupted by tree roots indicates poor construction as well as poor planning. I suspect too that the trail has a total depth of 3-4″ versus the 24″+ of a typical roadbed.

    Aaron

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