Wednesday, 8 September 2010

"Cyclists should pay rego", etc.

Pick any article in the news about, shock horror, actually spending a bit of money on infrastructure to encourage people to get out of their cars and maybe once in a while take a short trip on foot or on a bicycle and you will see the same tired and dull old comments. In short, the argument is this - motorists pay for roads through rego and petrol taxes, cyclists don't so the roads belong to cars.

Begrudgingly, I recently paid my car rego. I paid it for three months online. When you scroll through the various payment stages on the ezyreg website, one of them breaks down the payment into its constituent parts including stamp duty and levies.

The first two are the actual cost of the rego and the amount for compulsory third party insurance. They were about $50 and $155 respectively. That is, $155 is paid as an insurance premium. This reflects the cost of the damage and injury caused by motor vehicles each day although having said that, I think it is safe to say that motorists still get a pretty good deal. If the full cost of the damage caused by motor vehicles was calculated, we would probably have to pay more.

Registration then is $50. That is for a crappy six cylinder Commodore. A four cylinder will cost you less even though you may do more driving.

That raises the question. Does 50 bucks properly cover the cost of roads?

What do you think it costs to fix one pothole? Or to resurface a stretch of road? What does it cost to repair yet another lamppost or road sign that has been knocked flat by a car that "left the road"? More than 50 bucks I guarantee you.

There is a great page on the website of the Public Transport Users' Association in Victoria. Using data from the Bureau of Statistics, they come up with a deficit of about $16 billion a year. They include in their calculation of income from motorists the amounts spent on insurance premiums. They also include GST on car purchases which strictly are not intended for spending on roads. But putting it at its highest and using the most favourable scenario for motorists, there is still a deficit of $16 billion. Who pays that? Taxpayers generally, which of course include motorists but also include people who take public transport to work or cycle or who only have one car or no car at all. Local roads are paid for through council rates. It is the local homeowners who pay even though the beneficiaries are people from other council areas just passing through.

As Wheels of Justice say:

Not ONE CENT of your rego pays for roads. A small component goes toward the admin of running the rego system, the greatest element (over 80%) is a TAC insurance premium. This goes toward paying for the carnage (notice it’s not called bikenage!) that vehicles cause on a daily basis where thousands get killed annually. Our road network is paid for through general tax revenue. Currently only 30% of the excise on petrol has gone to funding roads. The balance is paid by you and me. Bike Rego has been costed by countless governments and abandoned for decades as it would cost far more than it could realistically collect.
When you next go shopping the suburbs, look at the space set aside for free parking. Every major shopping centre seems to have enough space set aside for a decent school. That is a cost that we all bear. Even small shops give away space for parking - partly because often misguided local council planning rules require a certain number of car parks for a certain size of shop. The particularly stupid thing is that because shopping centres with big car parks are everywhere, we know that people rarely drive a long distance specifically to visit that shopping centre. There may be some exceptions like Ikea or the homemaker centre near Gepps Cross but in the main, you will not drive across town to visit Woolworths when there is one close to you. So most of those shopping centres are within walking or cycling distance. True it is that many people pick up their weekly shop and will be taking home a large number of bags but next time you are there, look at how many people are wheeling out trolleys laden with lots of bags. Most people do not and what they are carrying they could easily carry home on foot.

It has become a bad habit and it requires a bit of effort to stop it. It needs to stop too. Sooner or later, peak oil will become a reality and the days when you take a 4WD around the corner to buy a packet of fags and the Sunday paper will be over. If you ask me, it can't come too soon but anyway, we are going to have to get used to it. We can start now.

One solution is, as we all know, proper cycling infrastructure for those short journeys. Not lines painted in the gutter but separated lanes that are so safe that you would happily let your children and grandparent use them. If an 8 year old and an 80 year old can comfortably use them you have got it right.

As for cyclists having to pay rego or some fee to use roads, I say bring it on. I would happily pay $50 a year so that the amount made is not all spent on administering the system. But there is one qualification. My $50 is spent solely on bike infrastructure. It does not go into the general road fund to be spent on the crappy, only open for two hours a day, lines in the gutter that are, without any irony, referred to as bike lanes.

This is I think one of the most linked to videos on David Hembrow's blog. It makes the point I think:

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