I talk to a lot of state legislators. At least among majority Republicans, a question I often get is something along the lines of, “why don’t cyclists want to pay for their own bike lanes?”
In fact, a couple of years ago one very powerful legislator, Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, went so far as to float a budget amendment that would have imposed a $25 “registration fee” on every new adult-sized bike purchase in the state. It wasn’t really a registration fee but a special sales tax at point of purchase. We fought that and won, but Nygren is still there and so is the notion that we don’t want to pay our way.
My standard response is to argue that most cyclists are also drivers, so we do pay gas taxes and vehicle registration fees that go to fund roads, including bike lanes, paved shoulders and the like. When we ride state trails – and some local ones – we pay for trail passes. And then there’s the savings in wear and tear on the roads, the lessened need for expensive car parking, the reduction in pollutants and green house gas emissions and the personal health benefits that end up saving everybody money in the long run.
So, I’ve been searching for a way to break through all this with the idea that if we can just get beyond the notion that cyclists aren’t willing to pony up for their own infrastructure we might be able to advance a broader pro-biking agenda.
One idea was voluntary state bike registration. Mirroring an existing Wisconsin program that allows owners of canoes and kayaks to voluntarily register their boats, the thought was that cyclists would want to register their bikes because it would put them in a statewide database. The benefit would be that when a stolen bike was recovered anywhere in the state it would be easily returned to its rightful owner. And, better yet, the revenues beyond the small amount needed to maintain the database could go right back into local bike lanes and other cycling safety projects.
If the participation rate was similar to that of the voluntary canoe and kayak program it might net well over a million dollars a year that could get plowed back into local bike programs.
I liked the idea as did the Bike Fed’s Public Policy Committee. But the bike industry would have opposed it and without their support it would have no chance of passage. Idea dropped.
But, folks, there’s more where that came from. So, here’s another bright idea: expanded use of current local registration fee revenues.
Current law allows local governments to charge a bike registration fee. Many municipalities do exactly that, but state law is hazy at best about what those fees can be used for. The language of the law and court rulings suggest that use of the fee revenues has to be closely tied to the registration program itself.
So, what if we just made it clear that bike registration fees could go for any cycling safety program, including infrastructure?
These are fees that some of us are already paying. It’s not granting any new authority to require registration. But it might have the effect of getting more cyclists to register their bikes because they know that the revenues are going into projects they directly benefit from. And current bike registration rates are pathetic. For example, only about 3,500 bikes are registered each year in Madison in a city of 230,000 people.
We are considering putting this proposal on our Lobby Day agenda, which is scheduled for April 13th. Before we do that we want to hear from you.
What do you think?