Would Irish cyclists be better off if we paid road tax?

Posted on: December 28th, 2017

cyclists road tax Ireland

If Irish cyclists paid some form of cyclist road tax might we be better off in the long run? And if such a tax was introduced how would it possibly work anyway?


Would cyclists be better off if we paid road tax?


Before we start; let’s establish one fact. Motorists don’t pay road tax. They pay tax on their cars – which most people refer to as “road tax”.

In reality, cars are taxed in Ireland based on engine size or emissions.

The emissions-based tax applies to vehicles manufactured after July 2008. The engine-related tax applies to older vehicles.

However, the tax is still generally referred to as “road tax”. Cyclists are not obliged to pay any such fee.

There is no tax we must pay before we can legally use the roads. But what if that changed?

What if “road tax” was, for example, added to the cost of all adult-sized bikes sold in Ireland?

Let’s ponder how Irish cyclists might benefit if we were obliged to pay some form of what is commonly referred to as “road tax”.


1 Change in status

A common retort from road users who see cyclists as second class citizens is that we don’t pay “road tax”.

This is thrown out as the reason why vehicles should automatically have priority on the roads.

Cyclists should count themselves lucky that they are allowed to use the roads that drivers’ taxes pay for; that’s how it goes.

It is always forgotten, of course, that motorists are paying for emissions rather than for the roads they are driving on.

In reality, roads are built and maintained in the most part from the money raised through general taxation.

And most cyclists are also motorists anyway; meaning they also pay “road tax”.

The perception motorists are paying for the roads may be erroneous. But it is still the source of a lot of resentment. And that really needs to be addressed.

If we were to pay a form of cyclist road tax it would go some way to establishing our right to our place on the roads that nobody could question. We would have paid to be there, just like everyone else.


2 It would strengthen the cycling lobby

How “road tax” would be paid by cyclists would need to be hammered out by Government. However, the tax could be charged as bikes were sold. The tax could all be paid in one chunk or perhaps paid in instalments over a number of years.

One assumes the tax would be very minor; much, much smaller than a vehicle’s “road tax”.

But once cyclists were paying for the use of roads, they simply could not be ignored any longer by Government.

Any group of road users paying a fee to be on the roads would have effectively bought their way to the negotiating table when transport budgets and policies were being set.

That would strengthen the hand of the cycling lobby. At present very few policy makers truly see the health and transport benefits cycling could bring.

And because many are not progressive and lack vision, they may only begin to take cyclists as seriously as they do motorists when a cyclist “road tax” applies to both.


3 Improved facilities

The battle for better cycling facilities is painful and slow. Much of the cycling lobby’s campaigning only reaches other cyclists.

The Department of Justice fears  a mooted 1.5 metre minimum passing distance may be unenforceable in Ireland; this despite its successful roll-out in the UK.

A former Lord Mayor of Dublin recently suggested cycling facilities should not be promoted in the capital because cyclists don’t cycle home with shopping bags.

The clear implication was that cyclists don’t spend money in the city centre so their lower value to the city economy pushed them down the pecking order.

It is into this primitive environment that cyclists must step to compete for better facilities; any facilities at all.

If we were seen as fee-paying road users, our calls for those facilities would not be so easily ignored.

In time we may even force the ring-fencing of the “cyclist road tax” for cycling facilities.