Monthly Archives: October 2013

Who Will Build the Bike Lanes?

I recently complained about the government ruining a good thing by taxing it. Pay by the mile auto insurance could turn into pay by the mile auto taxation, if some have their way. The government will always turn a good idea for saving money into a bad idea for losing money.

As an aside in my recent complaint, I pondered the threat of bicycle lane taxes as the next logical step. Too soon I remembered I had heard something like this before! Oregon had been murmuring about a statewide tax on bicycle purchases to make up for the loss of revenue from all those bicycle commuters who ditched their cars for the fresh breezes and healthy conscience of pedal power. This line of reasoning was brought on by the perceived over-bicyclization of Portland, but in this scheme the whole state of Oregon would pay for Portland’s sin of reduced carbon emissions. That’s a dandy.

Oregon is of course one of the few states with no sales tax and Portland is one of the few cities with a bazillion happy bicycle commuters. We even have a huge bike counter on the Hawthorne Bridge to celebrate! Bikes and no sales tax are good things, why mess with it now? The City of Portland spends a lot of money on bicycle-friendly infrastructure improvements which are often perceived at the expense of automobile infrastructure improvements. (There are a number of randomly unpaved gravel roads in my Portland neighborhood, but these are bad for cars and bikes alike – but good for three year olds in rain boots!)

The Oregonian reported that, “There is little organized opposition to bicycle use in Portland … However, there is latent, but pervasive, uneasiness among some residents that expanding bicycling opportunities will come at the expense of other modes of transportation.” Well, only if the state wastes their money on it.

If Portlanders in cars don’t want to pay for bicycle lanes to contain the Portlanders who are not in cars, then surely the people driving around Salem, Bend, and Eugene don’t want to pay for Portland’s bicycle lanes either. Instead of finding a different non-interested party to pay for something they’re not interested in, Portland should hire a private company to build their bike lanes. Paint a line on the side of the road and nail up a few signs. Some people in Seattle will even do it for free, and some folks out in Memphis are paying for their bike lanes with crowdfunding. Big companies are getting involved too, such as Amazon’s two block bike lane project back up in Seattle. It will be cheaper and more efficient if the work is privately contracted and we would cut out wasteful spending on spectacles like the proposed singing bike lane, and just paint some nice straight stripes as needed.

I wonder if the singing bike lane would be funded by the ill-conceived Portland Arts Tax?

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Technology is Taxing. So is Driving.

There’s a great new technology in auto insurance where drivers can pay per mile, which rewards lower mileage driving with lower insurance costs, and is surely less boring than insurance-as-usual. Using a device that plugs into the car, data is sent  out to one of these entrepreneurial insurance companies, such as Metromile, to track the actual quantity of miles driven by the insured car, rewarding your good work. In paying for only what is used, infrequent drivers can save some serious money and avoid paying what the “average” user “like” them pays. But you’re better than average, right? Sounds like a great business model – use technology to help people save money on a product they use infrequently but must pay for anyway!

We’re giving it a test drive this month to see how many miles we actually drive. We’ll compare the cost to our current traditional auto insurance and I expect to save a lot. The small device plugs into a port I didn’t even know existed, located below the steering column. I now know I’m averaging about 8 miles a day, having only driven over 20 miles on 6 separate occasions.

But hey, that’s a great idea and so the government is ready to reach between your legs and plug one of these into your car to generate tax revenue! Unsatisfied with the nation’s growing trend towards driving fewer miles (which means less gas purchased and fewer tax dollars paid), the government is looking for ways to make those who pay less – pay more.

I’d like to think most people try to consider the environment before they make choices (some think about it more than others, but it helps when more green equals more $green$). Big Government certainly thinks about the environment and tells us to play nice and drive less. But penalizing drivers who choose to drive high-mileage hybrids and electric cars (and who pay fewer or no gas taxes) with a new kind of tax that removes all the benefits by collecting taxes on a per mile basis is not going to do a lot for promoting gas efficient cars and economical use of resources. Recently the Obama administration mandated new regulations in fuel efficiency “with the goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption.” They even said that “families will save money.” Save the world and save money! Sounds nice, but we knew it was too good to be true. Start riding your bike before they tax the bike lane.

Paying for what you use is better than paying for the average of what everyone uses, if you’re going to have to fork over your first fruits anyway. So much for trying to save money. We might as well stay home and not go anywhere. Until recently we didn’t have a car, so I wouldn’t have cared. I won’t be surprised if they charge a fee, penalty, or “tax” for not participating.