Bike fees: Misinformed, misguided and a step backwards for Toronto.

From today’s Toronto Star:

Giorgio Mammoliti boldly announced Wednesday that if elected mayor, he would introduce a $20-$30 registration fee for bikes. “It’s an agenda that seems to be taking over so far in this election. It’s all about the downtown core and the downtown agenda, and the suburbs don’t want to continue to subsidize these pet projects,” he said.

With all due respect, he’s got all his facts wrong.

Cyclists live and ride all across the city, and there are major infrastructure projects happening in the suburbs right now to help ensure that cyclists have a safe place to ride in every part of Toronto.  In fact, the city (along with federal and provincial funding) is spending $23 million in North York and Scarborough to build bikeway trails – far more than is being spent downtown.  (The downtown bikeway projects will cost an estimated $330,000 this year.)

So his math is completely backwards.  Not only that,  but according to the city’s own Cycling Survey (2009), utilitarian cycling is growing faster in the suburbs than in the core. (download PDF report highlights)

Mammoliti’s proposed bicycle fee would only bring in about 35 million a year (minus the enormous cost of administering a whole new system of licensing).  City staff reports have repeatedly stated that costs outweigh any potential benefits when it comes to licensing or registering bicycles.

From a 2006 staff report:

There are an estimated two million bicycles owned by residents of the City of Toronto.  The feasibility of implementing an on-line licensing system for bicycles to generate revenue must be evaluated on the following points: the cost to implement such a programme, public education, practicality for enforcement of the programme, jurisdictional challenges, and, the effectiveness of such a programme for generating on-going revenue.

In order to recover the administrative costs of the programme and to ensure that sufficient revenue is generated on an on-going basis, the cost of the licence would need to be set at a value that may be considered exorbitant.

Other municipalities have looked into the costs of implementing and administering a mandatory bicycle licensing requirement. In 1991, the former City of Ottawa evaluated the financial feasibility of licensing bicycles to generate revenue to fund on-going cycling projects.  Its investigation determined that it was unlikely to cover the administrative costs of running the programme, let alone to generate sufficient revenue, and the idea was abandoned.

So forget about that idea.

But the real flaw in his thinking is the idea that cyclists aren’t already paying their fair share of the costs of road-building and maintenance.  The exact opposite is true.  According to the Cycling Survey, most cyclists also drive cars (full report, page 64).  So most of them already pay the Vehicle Registration Fee.  81% of recreational cyclists “have access to a car always or several times a week”.  For non adult cyclists, the number drops to 67%.   So the entire notion of cyclist VS driver is baseless and misleading.

Furthermore, the vast majority of cyclists on Toronto roads are city residents and pay city property taxes. But many drivers are from the 905 and don’t contribute to our municapal tax base (nor do they pay the vehicle registration fee).

Here’s the most important fact.  54% of Toronto adults are cyclists.  They may not ride every day, and they may own and drive cars.  But they own bikes. And asking each and every one of them to register and pay an annual fee for each bike will just result in thousands of bikes gathering dust, a small amount of  revenue, and a huge step backwards for Toronto.

Key Findings from the 2009 City of Toronto Cycling Survey (PDF)

Full Survey Results and Comparison between 1999 and 2009 (PDF)

Cross-posted on the Spacing Wire


11 responses to “Bike fees: Misinformed, misguided and a step backwards for Toronto.

  1. Bikes also put only a fraction of the wear and tear on our roads compared to cars, and take up very little space on the roads – so a bike licensing fee would need to be a fraction of the car licensing fee to reflect this.

    There is also a cost in our society for the pollution that cars generate that cause death (an estimated 1,600-6,000 deaths in Ontario are caused by smog).

    However, I would be willing in a heartbeat to pay $30 a year if it meant we could have protected bike lanes on all major routes in Toronto.

    But that just goes to show how unrealistic Mammoliti’s plan is.

  2. I would love to pay the $30 ‘bike tax’ – but only if it means I get to be a blustering myopic neanderthal whose civilization revolves around my chosen mode of transportation, and that all leaders, marketers and industries cater to my every physical, economic and political whim. Hmm, sound familiar?

  3. Let’s face it, Mammoliti doesn’t want to tax bikes so much as he wants to single out and punish the Kind Of People [tm] he thinks rides them (cooking up a useful wedge issue in the process). All this fiscal-minded tough talk, yet the numbers don’t even bear out … all too common for his ilk.

    Chalk this episode up to yet more of the many reasons the man isn’t remotely fit to run this city or represent its residents fairly.


    Currently, the city is creating poorly designed bicycle lanes for cyclists. Not only are there not enough of them to service the cycling community throughout the broader Metro area, but cyclists are not protected by them, where they exist, from danger by automobile traffic and vice-versa.
    In Toronto, bike lanes are rarely separated from other traffic by crash barriers or any other form of real protection. Cyclists frequently have to negotiate dangerous situations like car doors opening or cars changing lanes before the driver looks in the side mirror and checks the blind spot to ensure that the way is clear to do so. [In spite of the fact that they must first look and then signal before pulling out of a parked condition and have to follow that protocol to earn a licence, too few do it after they have one.]

    Paint on the road has no force in law unless it is accompanied by signage notification indicating the purpose of the paint. And paint –even if signed– doesn’t protect cyclists from cars or cars from cyclists either.

    Currently, the city is furiously applying paint as though that will make a real difference. But the highway traffic act has no mention of paint having a legal status anywhere in it. In spite of the fact that it has been put there at some expense as an important safety feature, motorists don’t even have to obey the painted solid no-passing line on a highway if it’s unsigned; and if there’s no sign that says “reserved bicycle lane, or bus lane, or cars with two or more passengers lane, or no passing at solid white line, or reserved for disabled parking” or some such accompanying sign, no paint will protect your rights, and no ticket issued on an unsigned painted area will be honoured in a court of law.

    Establishing separate bike lanes, putting down the paint and putting up the signs costs money. Surveying off the roads for bike lanes costs money. Maintaining the protection and signage and pavement condition for bike lanes costs money. All of these things including road maintenance are currently supported in great part at the gas pump, and CYCLISTS DO NOT PAY FOR THE EFFORTS THAT ARE BEING MADE SPECIFICALLY ON THEIR BEHALF through their income taxation even though they are paying for road maintenance wearing their other hats as motorists. Saving some of these bicycle-specific costs is why opportunities are provided for cyclists to participate in establishing bike lanes with physical volunteering in some municipalities.

    There’s no harm in trying to raise cash through bicycle registration and licencing (and also from fines gathered from other kinds of vehicles for disobeying bike traffic protection) that can be streamed specifically for real, protected bike lane establishment …and it does cost a fair buck to install it. When cyclists visibly and verifiably are paying for it, they can legitimately demand it.

    The advantages of paid bike registration are:
    -the registration system is already in place and won’t cost extra to implement (see the above link…my bikes are registered there every time I buy one)
    -bikes are better protected against theft
    -an opportunity exists to train and licence cyclists at the elementary school level where they can be taught safe cycling and learn the rules of the road (like not going the wrong way on a one-way street with a big smile for automobile traffic coming the other way, not passing open streetcar doors or stopping for pedestrians in those annoying crosswalks, not stopping at every stop sign or red stoplight, not riding on a pedestrian sidewalk with a large-wheeled vehicle, and having proper lighting and warning gear on the bike, [and even wearing a helmet], etc.) as well as cycling skills provided by bicycle police-operated safety training courses resulting in the granting of the licence, registering of the vehicle, and a certificate of graduation, etc. Hey! I went to one when I was a kid, spent an entire afternoon at it learning useful bike skills, got my licence, and survived to tell the tale.

    Much as I vary with Mammoliti on a lot of things, and I’m a cyclist too…although no real cyclist would consider me such because I don’t ride anywhere for a purpose, just occasionally for enjoyment, I can’t make him bad and wrong for trying to raise money from the cyclists themselves to help the cause of cyclists. It’s certainly an opportunity for cyclists to develop a legitimate, tax-paying voice in their rights to properly separated traffic lanes and exclusive routes all around town instead of the “complaining free-ride voice” that the city seems to hear every time an organized cycle traffic group expresses its concerns.

    Mammoliti might be up his ass about a whole lot of other things, but the way I hear this, he’s on side WITH cyclists, not against them. Like myself in this regard, he is not in a popularity contest to win the hearts and minds of cyclists. We both want the cyclists to have the safe and plentiful lanes they need, and are applying our creativity to find ways this can be done because –bottom line– cyclists are a group of citizens who have highlighted a serious problem that needs solving. That’s the working on your behalf that politicians are there for. That’s what they do…and I can assure HJ and others of “his ilk” that we just don’t have the time to give any weight at all to ad homonyms or other pointless noise as reasons for our actions.

    Look, all of you: you can only create a win/win/win situation in which all the parties are satisfied with the arrived-at result by participating with them all in arriving at it, not maintaining a division and separateness from them. Until automobile traffic, bicycle traffic, pedestrian traffic, and public transit can co-exist peacefully and fluently with each other, there will continue to be strife and lack of satisfactory conclusions, and they will continue to NOT work. Get into dialogue. Keep your cause, but look for commonalities. Work toward a mutually beneficial solution. The monkeys in the troop that make the most noise are those on the periphery, not the power brokers.

    Mark State
    2010 Mayoralty Candidate

  5. I would encourage folks to vote for these right-wingers. The more people vote for Ford, Smitherman at al, the more they split the centre-right-wing vote. Then tiny perfect Joe P. will sail into aoffice. He’s not perfect but a lot better than these other goons.

  6. The Globe’s Report on Business magazine wrote a month ago that gasoline prices would top $2.19 per litre by 2012. (Don’t quote me on the date, It may have been by 2011)
    Then the suburbanites will be abandoning their cars en mass. If you read James H. Kunstler’s book, The Long Emergency, he predicts the downward slide of the suburbs with the exponential climb in gas prices. Eventually, he says quite definitively, the suburbs will be the new slums.

  7. Response to Mark State:

    You make a lot of interesting points. A new one for me is that painted lines have no status in the Highway Traffic Act unless accompanied by signage. I’ll have to investigate that. Fortunately the HTA is at my fingertips so its easy to check.

    However, I don’t believe that city roads (where the bike lanes we are talking about are painted onto) are supported by gas pump taxes. It is my understanding that my, not insubstantial, property taxes pays for city roads, even though I, a resident of the inner suburbs, do not own a motorized vehicle and do minimal damage to them with my bicycle.

    I would be interested in seeing you update your argument with that correction in mind.

  8. Last year the City of Toronto approved 24.4 kms of new bike lanes and only completed 2.8 kms. These people can’t manage a 2 car funeral. They blew a fortune on cat licensing system and cat police.
    It would be no big surprise if their numbers are completely wrong on bicycle licensing revenue too. but we all know if they did try to do it they would certainly find a way to screw it up too.

  9. Bike licenses–that will stop those 905’ers from entering our city. They won’t have our licenses. The Berlin Wall will rise on Steeles Avenue!

  10. On the serious side, I describe myself as a recreational cyclist. I sometimes use it to just ride around. I also use it to go to the local stores because it is too far to walk. Trust me, with bike licenses, I can place my bike next to my 1990’s in-line skates and take my car to the local stores. I like my bike, but I don’t need it.

  11. I cycle every day, all year. I’ve been doing it for years. My commute is about 20 minutes from Bloor & Dufferin to Bloor & Yonge. I pay taxes. I pay property tax through a percentage of my rent to my landlord. My rent is $625 a month. I pay income tax to the federal government, which in turn a bit comes back to us eventually. $600 a month comes out of my paycheque in federal income taxes. Where does all this money I pay, go to? Obviously some of it must be going to transportation infrastructure. Therefore am I not already paying for the road I use? If I have to start paying bicycle fee’s, what am I getting out of it? Would they be putting a bicycle lane all along Bloor? Not very likely. Why would I be paying bicycle fees anyhow? Because I take up space like a car? Damage the road like a car? Create pollution like a car? Use as much energy as a car? The only argument that has some standing to me is insurance purposes when accidents happen. But really how often are there serious bike accidents out there? I think it’s pretty rare. Bicycle fee’s just wouldn’t compute for me… and I probably would go without paying unless they start heavy enforcement of it. When they do that, I’ll probably start walking then. My commute time would be double, at 45 mins. Also I’d have to walk to the supermarket, walk to my friends, walk to my mom’s. Basically walking everywhere means less available hours in my week. Yeesh, I already feel busy. Too bad I don’t have a wife at home to do the groceries and chores while I’m gone, that would save a lot of time! But a wife… at home… that doesn’t exist anymore. I’d love a 5 minute walk to work. I’d have to change my career then, and probably lessen my income expectations which would mean less ability to actually live in the area. Around Bloor West… jobs are retail, trade or service oriented. Not tech, engineering, design, etc. Anyhow to me I see the bicycle as a real golden goose egg that enables quick and relatively wide distance lifestyle and everything that comes with it.

    Walking appeals to me though, somehow it seems very rebellious.

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