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Tax on new bike purchases being investigated

Kathleen Yetman shows off a shirt given away at this year's downtown bicycle commuter celebration. A bicycle tax could be used to fund events like this one.

Cyclists buying bikes in Tucson might have to shell out just a little bit more money to purchase a new bike.

Officials from the Bicycle Advisory Committee and the City of Tucson are exploring the idea of creating a bicycle tax on the purchase of new bikes.

The tax would go toward funding bicycle projects and programs within the city.

Tom Thivener, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian program manager, asked the BAC’s Executive Subcommittee to put the tax on their agenda Wednesday night to discuss it.

According to Thivener, Colorado Springs says they are the only city in the country with a bicycle tax. They charge a flat $4 fee for every bike sold, including big box retailers like Costco and Walmart.

Thivener said because of the economy, he has seen the funding for the bike and pedestrian program shrink. When he was hired they had two full time employees. Now Thivener only works 75 percent of the time on bike projects. The money for programs like Bike Fest and Cyclovia is being moved to Pima Association of Governments.

“I am just wondering what is going going to be left,” he said. “What am I going to be able to do?”

Thivener said Colorado Springs brings in about $100,ooo a year through their program.

Based on national bike sales numbers and a comparison to Colorado Springs, Thivener estimates 33,000 bikes are sold in Tucson each year. At $5 per bike, the tax revenue would be $165,000 a year.

BAC president, Ian Johnson said the idea is in the very early stages but he he sees it as a potential option for helping fund bicycle projects in the region; unlike bicycle licensing which is “terrible” idea because the program costs more that it brings in.

“It could provide an alternative source of funding that could be dedicated toward staffing, PSAs or other important elements of the bike program that need funding,” he said. “In terms of transportation funding it isn’t very much, but it is a reliable source of income.”

Johnson said the BAC decided to spend the next month researching the program and speaking with the bike community and bike shop owners to make sure it is something they could support.

The BAC’s hope is that if they decide to support it, Pima County would also adopt the tax. There was some concern about people driving outside the city limits to avoid the fee.

“It is hard to imagine someone driving across town to avoid a $4 fee, but we definitely want to talk to business owners to make sure before we endorse or reject such a plan,” he said.

Fairwheel Bikes owner, Ralph Phillips said he wasn’t totally sold on the idea.

“I have mixed feelings about that,” he said. “I think it is a nice way of improving the community and tacking the tax on to the users of it.”

But he said many of his customers are University of Arizona students who are on fixed budgets and don’t ride their bikes anywhere other than campus. He could see where they might feel it wasn’t fair.

He said much more than $4 or $5 for the tax would be excessive. Neither the city or the BAC have proposed an actual amount.

David Tang, Ordinary Bike Shop’s owner, said he liked the idea. but agreed $5 seemed like a good amount.

“I think it is going to be such a small amount that I don’t think most people are going to care,” he said. “I see it actually having a profound impact on the bike and ped program for the city. ”

He said he could see that the fee might prevent a few people from buying other things like helmets and lights, but it would be a small impact.

“I really don’t think it will affect bike sales that much,” Tang said. “If anything, it will help advocate and get more people on bikes because the programs will be that much better. ”

Bicyclist Art Gillespie purchased two bikes for his family in the last two months and said a tax wouldn’t have affected his decision at all.

“Four dollars against the price of a bike is trivial,” he said.

Gillespie said it would actually be pretty cool, “assuming that the money actually gets to bike projects.”

The taxes could also go to help fund more cyclovias

Gillespie said he would be willing to pay even more than $5.

“At what point would I be pissed off?” he said. “I don’t know — 30 bucks.”

Johnson said this tax could also help eliminate the mentality that cyclists don’t pay their fair share.

“Of course I always want to emphasize that most bicyclists drive cars and therefore support roadway projects,” he said. “Roadway projects are subsidized by the federal government, which uses money from a general fund. On top of that, the RTA, which is where most roadway project funding is coming from right now, is sales tax based not use based. I believe that bicyclists already pay a fair share and they also use the roads a lot less than cars do, but this would be one potential way to short circuit that argument.”

After officials research the program, the issue will eventually go before the full BAC to determine if there is broad support for the fee.

Thivener said he is investigating what city processes would have to be implemented to get the tax added.

What do you think about the tax? Good idea? How much is too much?

 

38 comments
3wheeler
3wheeler

I love all the ideas given above even tho some are pro and others are con. I like the idea of giving some of my money to make things better, but I also agree that the government isn't so trustworthy and they already take quite a bit of my money.  I read one comment and think, "Yah, that's right."  I read the next comment that takes the opposite position and think, "Wow, that's so true".  What to do?  What to do?

Will
Will

What an awful idea. Instead, how about adding a $20 fee or 0.1% tax to every car sold to support bike infrastructure? When you're shelling out $20,000 for a new car another $20 is just a drop in the bucket. Or, tack $1 onto the annual vehicle registration fees. 

chuck123
chuck123

Why would I want to pay extra car fees to support bicyclists? Besides, what is to assure me those extra car fees will actually go for what is intended? And would this be a statewide program? If so, how important is it for Jerome to have a bicycle trail program? Let's just keep this local & simple.

Mlemen
Mlemen

Shenanigans of all kinds will occur (given Tucson's history for creative budgeting) if a transportation staff position is funded by a tax instead of from transportation revenues, as it is currently.  The "saved" payroll will no doubt be reassigned to either the general fund or some non-bike friendly road project. The government should continue to fund bike/ped transportation positions with transportation revenues,  not a tax! 

chuck123
chuck123

Shocking!!!!! Not long ago I got fairly skewered floating the idea of a voluntary 1% "tax" on ALL transactions in bicycle shops that would be used in much the same way as being promoted here. The difference is that this "tax" would be maintained in a business type bank account instead of going into a city maintained melting pot that could then be hijacked for another, more important city project. This "tax" money I speak of could then be doled out for bicycle projects in much the same manner as grants allowing for more say in projects and more control over the money. Or, ther could be legislation allowing a $:$ state tax break for bicycle projects in much the same way we do with schools. I still believe money for bicycle projects should come from somewhere, preferably from a money pot that shows the more skeptical populace that bicylists truly do prefer to pay their own way.

Red Star
Red Star

Are we not forgetting the pedestrians? Why should they get a free pass? After all, proper sidewalks cost a buck or two. Shouldn't the funding come from somewhere, like a tax on shoes, socks, feet, ankles, etc., etc.?

chuck123
chuck123

I see your point and if you can make it work all the better. In the meantime, I'll continue applying my own efforts in the same direction as most of the other folks who have posted here.

Red Star
Red Star

Why not simply allocate some of the revenue from photo radar vans and red light cams to bicycle infrastructure and maintenance, perhaps staffing? Say, $150,000 or $250,ooo per fiscal year? Is the money there? What would such an allocation take away from? Would it be legal (in compliance with existing city ordinance)? Would Mike Letcher/Richard Miranda/City Council/City Attorney be ok with this? If it flies with those obtuse people, it looks simple to implement and low-cost to administer. Of course it wouldn't placate the motorist reactionaries and other nuts as BAC's Ian Johnson seems to want; it might make them worse.

Scott
Scott

Is it a hardship? No.  No new additional tax by itself typically is, at first, otherwise they couldn't sell it to the public - but they all add up after a while, don't they?  Personally, I can do without the bread-n-circus style "bicycle events" complete with freebees like the one in the picture, and Tucson is already chock-full of bicycle infrastructure - also known as roads - that allow us to easily get pretty much anywhere in town by bicycle.  All the little extras that get everyone so exited like bike lanes and boxes, sharrows, bike-crossing lights, etc. are admittedly all nice frosting on the cake, and certainly generate an air of bike-friendliness - but seriously - is there anybody here who can honestly say that they would not be riding today if those things didn't exist?  MUPs and other recreational facilities are nice, but they're like any other park and don't really fall under the purview of transportation.  The single biggest thing to be done to promote cycling in Tucson is to get TPD on board.  How much could it cost to actually start ticketing violations of the 3-foot law and take serious other careless and/or aggressive motorist behavior toward cyclists?  That would be a revenue _increase_ thanks to an inexhaustible supply of dangerous drivers in this town, not a drain.   Aside from the beliefs of the ignorant, bicyclists already pay their fair share and more for usable infrastructure without being responsible for the wear and maintenance issues caused by multi-ton motor vehicles.  (Personally, I maintain registration on several idle motorcycles that I don't ever ride anymore unless I'm going somewhere out of town.)  Why single us out for even a paltry additional tax?  If anything I like the idea others have mentioned about making bike shops a collection point for voluntary contributions.  Everybody who thinks this tax is a good idea would be happy to chip in every time you visit - right?  Or do you support the tax because you already have your bike and will probably not be buying a new one in Tucson anytime soon?

Frank Tellez
Frank Tellez

Tom Thivener is only working 75% of the time, without any money, and getting the results he gets?? Tom Thivener needs to run for Mayor and every position on the City Council.   However, I don't think $100k will help. What can you do with $100k? That won't even pay for an extra water fountain. Why not have a fundraiser instead and get people to pay $10,000 a plate for dinner with someone famous. 

Martha Retallick
Martha Retallick

I'm with you on the fundraiser, Frank. So, waddya say we organize one, okay?

Think
Think

I can't even believe this is even being considered. It is insane. I am shocked that anyone thinks this is even remotely reasonable. Just a quick list of reasons why this is DUMB!   I can't imagine $165,000 could be worth even setting up the program.  Think of the cost of enforcement and collection and implementation for the city. It will cost them $500,000 just to change the sales tax form. I bet they will spend $400,000 to pay a consultant from Texas to redesign the form. Morons. Think about the burden of implementation for retailers. It is a horrible regressive tax. $5 on a $50 kids bike plus sales tax = 19.1% making it $59.55. Just think, do you really want to burden the average small family with a $5 fee maybe Mom and Dad don't buy a bike for the toddlers? Where will that put you for bike advocacy? City of Tucson = Master of Misappropriation = all the reasons already mentioned Rio Nuevo, on and on. Bike infrastructure benefits everyone including non-cyclists. Really we need to raise $165,000 to pay for staff at the city to talk about bikes. How much infrastructure can you really pay for with $165,000, not much. It would just result in other funds being cut and net Zero for bikes.   Morons! Your stupidity hurts me. I think I am going to be sick. Every time I meet a stupid person I am shocked to find out they are even dumber than the last one. The people that think this is a good idea are only exceeded in their stupidity by the people that came up with the idea.

straw
straw

You lost me once you got to the ad hominem fallacies.  Your points regarding the cost of administration versus the actual income coupled with the logistics involved are well taken.  

tstsmm
tstsmm

just what we need, more taxes. tax this, tax that.  dont you think 9.1 percent tax on a bicycle is enough? especially when its a 4000 dollar bike?  how about instead of taxing more, get rid of welfare and other money draining social programs that make people lazy, so we have money to do more functional things.   hate to say it but i mail order just about all my parts/frames because there is no tax and most places ship for free.  yeah i shop locally in emergencies, but i am willing to wait 3-4 days.  and most cyclist also have cars.  look at all the tax we have on cars, and we drive them less because we love to bike.  registration, sales, gas...all taxes....taxes=more incentive for government to find other things to tax.  i know 5 bucks isnt alot, but how about being smart with our money instead of charging peeps more.  and tucson also has a gym membership tax...wtf....tax soda, not the gym.  geezsus.

Tom Thivener
Tom Thivener

Here are a few good reasons to support funding additional bike/ped staff.  Imagine the outcomes if Bike/Ped staffing was increased here in Tucson.  These were taken from the League of American Bicyclists website :(http://www.bikeleague.org/blog/2010/05/why-bicycle-and-pedestrian-staff/  -Employing bicycle and pedestrian staff shows that a community is committed to a comprehensive transportation system; they are critical to integrating bicycling into the municipality’s plans and projects. Their impact is measurable. -As the size of a city’s staff increases the average bike commuter share also increases -Cities with more than four staff had more than three times the average bike commuter share of cities with four or fewer – and double that of cities with three to four staff. -Cities with large bicycle staffs are more likely to have accomplished more for bicycling in their communities than other cities.  If you want to see how Tucson compares, staffing wise, to other major cities, look at page 83 of the Alliance for Biking and Walking's Benchmarking Report: http://peoplepoweredmovement.org/site/images/uploads/2010%20Benchmarking%2011.20.10%20Web.pdf

Red Star
Red Star

Forget a special tax on bikes and a special tax on shoes and socks...forget all that. Why not a special City of Tucson tax on feet? We all got 'em. Should be simple and cheap to administer:  inelastic. What's being covered up here, Tom Thivener/Mike Letcher? Dysfunctional, tone deaf city council? Poverty? Comatose local economy?

Mllemen
Mllemen

There was a small reference in the article that the bike tax could/may go to a salary for staff in the bike/ped dept. I'm keen for a tax going to infrastructure, not so keen about a salary. I'm curious to hear a more fleshed out idea at a future BAC meeting.

Erik Ryberg
Erik Ryberg

Generally I think we should be taxed and the taxes should go where the money is needed.  You start Balkanizing it too much and it's bound to go haywire-- it's a great idea until people who like a particular breed of dog start taxing themselves in order to support a particular kind of dog park, and so on ad infinitum.  A huge portion of my taxes currently goes to things I don't support at all, like freeways and war, but that's life and my remedy is to vote for people who won't authorize things I don't like.  Until then I am in the minority and that too, is life. It strikes me that Tucson's bike program is one of the very few Tucson programs that actually produces stuff that I notice.  I am well aware that the City keeps my water faucet functioning etc. etc., but one reason people hate taxes so much is they don't seem to get anything for them -- we barely have public transportation, the state does not provide health care, and public schools often suck.  No wonder people hate to pay taxes.  But here in Tucson, one thing I often see is new bike infrastructure.  It's a very visible program.  I hope it stays that way but the way things are going is scary.  So I don't blame Thivener and Johnson for looking at this. 

3wheeler
3wheeler

Personally, I wouldn't mind giving $50 every year to pay for bike infrastructure.  That's dirt cheap compared to a gym membership. The other side of that has been addressed already by several people, politians have no hesitance to collect a tax on Z and spend the money on Y.  Remember the social security lockbox idea?  It sounded good but it never got off the ground in Washington. Also, I don't think a $4 or $5 tax on a new bike is onerous, but where does it stop?  Will there be a tax on silverware because they don't want to spend medicare money to treat obese people?   If they did that, then cyclists should get money FROM the government for riding and trying to stay fit.  That's obviously ridiculous, tho. There have been a lot of astute things written here, and I look forward to seeing some more.

Crazy
Crazy

There is a reason only one community has such a tax.  So many bike shops here already contribute positively to the local economy. If you tax a bike, then you must do scooters, skates, skateboards, gym shoes etc. since they use the bike paths.

Someone
Someone

Doesn't Tucson already have a sales tax? Why double tax it because it is a bike?

Mlemen
Mlemen

Tucson's sales tax is 9.1%

Ianjohn27
Ianjohn27

Appreciate all the comments. Remember -- there's a heck of a long way between discussing this as an idea and actually implementing it. I think having the conversation alone is worth it no matter what the outcome is. Additional food for thought: http://streetsblog.net/2011/08/22/would-taxing-bikes-solve-the-infrastructure-problem/ http://streetsblog.net/2010/03/24/revisiting-the-idea-of-a-bicycle-tax/ http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2010/03/registering_bikes_its_no_money.html

Colby
Colby

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

straw
straw

It's a regressive tax.  Buyers of $79 Walmart bikes pay the same amount as buyers of 10k Calfee tandems.  Or is it a user fee?  I haven't bought a new bike in several decades.  Is it fair that I would not have to pay, I ride my bicycle a lot and benefit from the infrastructure.  What about the internet, lots of folks buy their bicycles in bits and pieces and assemble them.   I agree with anyone who worries that unless the funds were encumbered the city would end up spending them on whatever the cause of the moment was.  And Red Star, you're right trying to appease irrational people by paying a tribute tax doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense as an argument in favour.  None of this is to say that I personally would have an objection to helping fund the t-dot bike  ped co-ordinator position/programs via a tax. Voluntary contribution, ask NPR how well that's working.  

Ari
Ari

NO! Common now sheeple No more regressive taxation You are already taxed on: Income Purchases Fuel Booze Tele Smokes Property

Martha Retallick
Martha Retallick

Me again. I just had a brainstorm. Since the word "tax" is often viewed with the same disdain as those Seven Words You Can't Say on the Radio, here's another word: Donation As in, how about a time-of-purchase donation to local bicycling-oriented groups like BICAS, Living Streets Alliance and El Grupo? Or a promo in which local businesses would kick in a certain amount to these groups in addition to the purchaser's donation? Heck, we could even form something like a United Way for alternative transportation. And I'll bet that it would raise a lot of money.

BPerezsr
BPerezsr

What is NEXT ??? in TUCSON TAX ???   Time to move  ! ! ! !

Nathan Johnson
Nathan Johnson

I would have no problem with paying an extra $4 on a bike purchase. However, instead of a flat tax, I'd rather have a way for bike and gear purchasers to be able to donate directly to BAC through the local bike shops. At each purchase they simply ask for a donation and the customer is able to give whatever amount they want. They can even suggest a recommendation of $4 if they want. But those who don't want to pay for bike programs won't have to contribute anything, and those that want to be able to fund more bike programs will be able to do so.

Red Star
Red Star

The suggested tax amount is trivial to Red Star. But consider some of the underlying principles and the source, BAC's  Ian Johnson: Ian Johnson, BAC president says "I believe that bicyclists already pay a fair share and they also use the roads a lot less than cars do, but this would be one potential way to short circuit that argument." (Tucson Velo, this date) and: "Johnson said this tax could also help eliminate the mentality that cyclists don’t pay their fair share." (Tucson Velo, this date) Seems BAC's Ian Johnson wants cyclists to pay a tax to correct a profoundly ignorant mindset. Should cyclists pay tribute to the uninformed Rushbot people that upset Ian Johnson so? What do you think?

zz
zz

Who can be currently up on things and trust the city with additional funds? I wish it weren't so. The city's habit and history would dictate that it would reduce current allocations with the expectation that these new funds would make up the difference leaving us with a net gain of zero. I say keep the city's hands off the money. I  support any entity or coalition dedicated to the funding of projects related to bicycle interests that essentually would act like a charity in its acqusition and dispersion of funds. A point of purchase 'donation', like Surprisedmind mentions, could likely net more money in the long run; would require cooperation and coordination among sellers and hopefully result in some formation of solidarity in the bicycle community which is something I think we really lack. I already trust practically any cyclist more than my councilperson.

MikeI
MikeI

Four or five dollars doesn't seem like that much.... but it absolutely has to be paid by the big box stores too.. no free ride for those guys !    

Martha Retallick
Martha Retallick

Given the tremendous hoo-hah being raised over the mismanagement of the city's Parkwise program, I have concerns over how the money would be handled. After all, this is the same City of Tucson that also brought us such gems as Rio Nuevo, aka the gift that keeps on giving.

Mlemen
Mlemen

Paying $5/bike to better bike facilities is good, IF the money goes where we expect it's going to go - to biking - and not diverted into any other budget to balance the City budget.  I have doubts that the funds collected for bike infrastructure will make its way to bike projects.  Anyone paying attention to City budget woes knows funds are raided from one source to balance the budgets in other departments. Other questions for the detail-figure-outerers:   Are just new bikes sold in the city taxed? 33k bikes in COT proper seems to be a stretch; 33k in Tucson Metro seems more likely.  What about used bikes sold at bike shops? Getting the tax from bike shops should be easy enough.  Ensuring Big Box stores are taxed could be more of a challenge . . . I'm just writing out loud - no doubt more questions will be raised. 

Surprisedmind
Surprisedmind

I think the tax on new bicycles is a brilliant solution to aid our underfunded city, county, and federal bike programs.   How could anyone object to adding the one-time-only price of a bagel and cream cheese, kid's meal, or double espressso to their bike cost when it could have such positive results??   Also, how about adding a voluntary increase to the $5 for those who want to do more?  Many retail outlets use this "point-of-purchase" donation model for various charities, not to mention our financially wounded State Park system.  I do agree with Nathan, though, that the use of the revenue HAS to be guaranteed for bike programs. 

Nathan Saxton
Nathan Saxton

My concern would be eventual mismanagement of funds.  Not at the hands of Mr. Thivener, as I believe he's done an incredible job with the resources he's been given, but would the funds really make it to his department in the first place?  But, that fear aside, I'd gladly pay a $5 tax if it could truly put an extra $165,000 into the bike and ped program.

Tucson Pedaler
Tucson Pedaler

I like the idea, but the concern is that once you open a revenue stream, the city will be tempted to increase the amount.  The amount has to be so small that it does not stop anyone from purchasing a bike.  Think of it this way, what if the city were to give $50 to everyone who was going to buy a bike.  How much would it increase ridership?