Why cyclists should pay (road) tax

Whenever I say something that tries to highlight the horrendous inequalities between cyclists and other road users, money – inevitably – raises its head.

“Cyclists contribute nothing to the road tax-based economy, because cycling is carbon neutral” (or similar) is put forward as the argument for this lack of fiscal contribution.

Another argument often put forward is that Road Tax is dead.

These are two of the most egregious, wildly inaccurate arguments ever voiced aloud.

And there are three fatal structural faults to these statements:

  1. Cyclists use prepared surfaces. In all major towns and cities, cyclists use tarmac surfaces. Roads or special cyclepaths (or pavements). It doesn’t matter which surface cyclists are using. The bottom line is that these surfaces are massively NOT carbon neutral. These surfaces are constructed out of mining and manufacturing processes that are pure environmental destruction. Cyclists use these hideously costly surfaces. Cyclists are quick to complain about potholes in the road or the pavement or the cyclepath. But cyclists seem unable to comprehend the overwhelming deficit of carbon neutrality that cyclists contribute to the global environmental economy, by using them.
  2. The average modern bicycle is the output of a long and an enormously polluting set of manufacturing processes (and we are not even including supply-chain miles). The not-icing on this not-cake of not-carbon-neutrality is that, to help keep modern cycle frames as lightweight as possible, a significant amount of carbon fibre is used in their manufacture. The production of carbon fibre is one of the most polluting processes known to mankind. Yet cyclists also overlook this not-carbon-neutral state of affairs.
  3. Road tax (I am often told) no longer exists. This is not strictly true. Changing the name of Road Tax to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and charging a banded structure of fee against different types of cars, does not make Road Tax not exist, and here’s why. Motorbikes. Only cars, buses and lorries pay VED based on their emissions. And yet motorbikes pay road tax based on their cubic capacity (CC). If we had an even playing field, and if motorcycles were subject to the same taxation scheme as cars, most motorbikes would pay little – or no – road tax. For example, the Toyota Aygo or the Citroen C1 are both class B cars, on the VED scale. Being Class B means that the owner of either of these cars pays just just £20/year, based on their CO2 production of 139g. My Honda VFR costs £78/year to tax, yet it produces a mere 16.5g of CO2. Or, to compare. My VFR costs four times as much, to tax, than a class B car does, yet it produces the tiniest amount of CO2.


So there it is. A practical demonstration, using three strands of clearly defined reasoning, that there is actually no sound, logical, or financial reason, why bicycles should not be subject to an annual road tax.

Contributing no money, using everything on the planet

Contributing no money, using everything on the planet

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10 Responses to Why cyclists should pay (road) tax

  1. Marcus says:

    I’m a little tired, given that the current bout of insomnia has kept me up since 2, but I will just point out that points 1 & 2 could just as easily be applied to a pedestrian wearing fancy running shoes and/or an outfit from Primark.

    It depends on how far you go.

    Cars, in addition, put far greater wear on the roads and pollute _all the time_. So perhaps a levy on carbon fibre frames? But I’d say that would be counter productive in the grand scheme of things.

    • Brennig says:

      You’re right. Cars (buses, lorries etc) do put greater strain on the environment. There are many things that underline how broken the VED concept/scale is. The scale, it seems to me (as highlighted by the bonkersness of the treatment of motorcycles) is unfit for the purpose it was intended. I laud the general concept of a ‘polluter pays’ tax, but in the application of this idea, HMG have got so many strands of their thinking wrong, that it’s time start again, and not time to continue tinkering with a broken system.

      Hope your insomnia rescinds.

  2. Masher says:

    I just wrote a huge long comment on this, with examples of fors and againsts for your argument.
    And then I lost it all with a single keypress.
    So, as a cyclist can I just say that you are wrong.
    And as a motorist, can I just say that you are right.

    • Brennig says:

      I feel that, in pointing out precisely how broken the thinking is behind this general concept, I will inevitably be called wrong – and right. But one can only point out how broken the system is by highlighting the idiocies that the system throws up. And the VED scale is one of the most idiotic pieces of Government thinking we have had to endure.

  3. Gumpher says:

    Hi Bren, long time, no comment, I like your new look, tidy.

    I see both sides, as I cycle to work a bit in the summer. As a motorist as well as a cyclist, I’m happy with my contribution to the coffers, in whatever way they dress it up these days.

    As my commute is on country roads, I don’t see the stupid and dangerous cycling that I witness when I’m in the car in towns and cities, but I do see utter arsewipes behind the wheel most days I’m on the bike. A complete lack of knowledge of the basics of the highway code is not restricted to cyclists.

    • Brennig says:

      Hey Gumph. I wrote a piece for CIF in the Guardian but they haven’t yet used it. Over two weeks, in a single three-mile stretch in to the centre of Oxford, I recorded motorists transgressions and cyclists transgressions. I saw an average (in just one leg of this three-mile, ten minute journey, five days a week) of nine cyclists break the law. Every single day for two weeks. I saw one motorist break the law in the whole two week span. I saw no motorists drive through pedestrian-only zones. I saw no motorists drive through red lights. I would say two things:
      1. If you multiply the results of that short journey in to a whole day, the number of cyclists who feel they are above the law would be in the hundreds
      2. If hundreds of motorists were breaking the law every day, in a short stretch of journey such as that, the police would be on every single street corner, and the CCTV vans would be out in force.

  4. SteveS says:

    I’m sure it’s just an oversight but you didn’t mention band A cars.
    There are about 100 different cars listed here


    which are in band A and pay zero VED.
    Do you think bicycles should pay more than band A, the same as band A or less than band A?

    • Brennig says:

      Neither, obviously. I have clearly demonstrated that the VED banding system is broken and is demonstrably unfit for the purpose it is intended, through the ample illustration of a less-polluting motorcycle paying several times the amount of VED of a more polluting car. I’m sorry this illustration, and the accompanying meaning, seems to have eluded you.

  5. Cycloman says:

    Surely the point of your third argument should be that the tax on motorcycles should be changed to be based on emissions, as it is for other vehicles, rather than that cyclists should be subject to the same unfairness that motorcyclists are?

    • Brennig says:

      Curse the comment cut-off period.

      Actually the point of my entire argument, just so that neither of us take things out of context, is that a tax is a tax, and a poorly thought-out tax is a poorly thought-out tax. The system was broken before it was even applied. And when something is as patently wrong as the road tax (let’s stop calling it the VED, because – believe it or not – tax reminders still arrive from DVLA that completely fail to mention VED), it isn’t time to fuss and fidget and bodge it. It is time to throw it all away and start again, from the ground up.