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Dec. 4th, 2015

tajasel: Katie, with a purple wig on. (Default)
Over the last year, I've come to think of myself properly as A Cyclist, and whilst it always used to grind my gears (pun not entirely intended) when the old "cyclists don't pay tax or insurance!" line was thrust in my face, it has come to annoy me even more as I hear it more and more often, whether yelled at me by motorists who are angry with me for obeying the Highway Code or read in the latest cycling news.

There are a few problems with this.
  1. Road tax doesn't exist; it hasn't for a long time (in that name), and looking back to when something by that name was introduced, Winston Churchill objected to it on the basis that it would make motorists feel that they had more right to use the roads than people who didn't (have to) pay it. And he was right.
  2. The thing that most people claim is "road tax" is actually Vehicle Excise Duty, and it is based on the emissions produced by a vehicle. Zero-emission vehicles, such as electric cars, don't pay any VED. Therefore, I do in fact pay the appropriate amount of "tax" for my vehicle.
    Side note: neither do emergency services vehicles, or, more frustratingly, really old vehicles that aren't environmentally friendly.
  3. Cyclists who also own a vehicle that is not exempt from emissions duty do pay VED. I am not one of them, but there are many people to whom that does apply.
  4. Road repairs are currently paid for through local council tax. I don't pay that, because I am a full-time student. But if anyone wants to seriously suggest that full-time students should be banned from cycling, let me know so I can get my popcorn.

And on the insurance thing — I am a member of British Cycling at the Ride level. Note the very first 'perk' of membership listed on that page:
"Liability insurance cover of up to £10m for incidents where you are wholly or partly at fault."

Incidentally, in order to be a racing cyclist in the UK, most organisations insist that riders hold a racing licence, for which you have to be a member of British Cycling — and all membership levels from Ride and above include insurance. (The level below Ride is for "cycling fans" who want to support the work that BC does, but don't need the benefits of insurance, etc.)

CTC membership also offers a similar deal, albeit without the option for race licensing, and there's a good number of other insurance companies that do just-insurance without the campaigning side of things. Ergo, many cyclists already have insurance.

"But not all cyclists are members of these organisations!" I hear you cry — and yes, that's true — but enough are that enforcing an annual fee similar to VED in order to ride a bike, ostensibly to insure oneself, would be simply unfair to those who have taken out insurance from other places, whether as part of their memberships or independently — especially as the latest figure I've seen quoted as part of this suggestion is actually 50% more than what I pay for my BC membership.

And yes, organisations like BC and CTC could restructure their memberships to not include insurance, but that doesn't take away the fact that the £50 figure suggested by the founder of the Motorists Association this week costs more than a CTC or BC membership (which come with other benefits as well as just insurance). Either he's not doing his research into what's already available for cyclists, or he has and has come up with a higher figure because he realises what a costly nightmare it would be for the Government to monitor and administrate cyclist registration and insurance.

And the difficulty of administrating mandatory cyclist insurance is just one argument for not bringing it in: we could also potentially draw likeness to the effects of mandatory helmet use in Australia.

As you can see, the numbers of children cycling dropped significantly, and adults were also put off, albeit to a lesser degree. Whilst this data is old, and about helmets rather than insurance and tax, it does suggest that enforcing something upon cyclists which makes it less easy to just get on a bike and ride (once you know how, obviously) may discourage people from doing so.

So it seems to me that enforcing insurance and tax on cyclists might be somewhat counterproductive to our Government's aims, given that the Conservative Party manifesto, pre-2015 election, said this about cycling:
"We want to double the number of journeys made by bicycle and will invest over £200m to make cycling safer so we reduce the number of cyclists and other road users killed or injured on our roads every year."

Of course, the Tories have since announced a plan to change VED and road tax, removing the responsibility from local councils for road repairs and repurposing the money they take from motorists to fund it on a national level, so the argument "you don't pay road tax!" might actually be valid from 2017 (point #3 above notwithstanding).

Which is implausible, since they plan to take much less than they'll actually need for road improvements and maintenance, but refactoring "road tax" is a different problem to propositions to tax cyclists.

What I worry about is the continuing effect on attitudes and behaviour towards cyclists, should "road tax" be reintroduced and ideas like cyclist registration and insurance continue to be lobbied for by motorists who, I suspect, really just want to see fewer bikes on the road, and so are doing their best to come up with ways to make that happen.

I'm a confident cyclist; my grandparents met through a local cycling club in the 1940s, took my mum and her brother on cycling holidays when they were children, and the passion has been passed down to me and (to a lesser extent) my own brother. I got my first road bike aged 12, and as a teenager, I rode regularly at the Manchester Velodrome, until a crash brought me off the track, whereupon I got out of the habit and almost stopped cycling altogether.<

Aged 14, with my pride and joy. The bike was sold after my crash, and I'm told it's still in use on the same track, but I have yet to see it again.

I was bought a new bike for my 18th birthday, but between going off to university where I couldn't afford the add-on to my contents insurance for it, and then several years of laziness, I rode barely 500 miles on it until earlier this year.

However, in February 2015, I began cycle-commuting, on that bike from ten years ago, and via a colleague, I discovered Strava Challenges, and my passions for leisure riding and the Velodrome were reborn. In the intervening ten months, I've ridden just over 1800 miles, or 3000km. I ride nearly every day, with a large chunk of my commute along busy A-roads, and for me, the abuse hurled out of open windows and horns blaring behind me for daring to choose not to bounce over the potholes in the gutters — it all just glides over my helmet.

But I know other cyclists are not so brave. Other cyclists may be scared off by the increased number of motorists who feel they have more of a right to use the road because of the "road tax" they pay, that they assume cyclists don't. Other cyclists may be put off if they currently choose to use a bike because it's a cost-effective alternative to cars and public transport, only for a mandatory charge (which, again, could be higher than membership of a cycling organisation) to come along and make it unaffordable. It would almost certainly put off privacy-minded individuals who enjoy the freedom of one thing they do not have to register with the Government.

In short, cyclist insurance does exist, and many make use of it — but in my opinion, we shouldn't enforce it — and registering and taxing cyclists would probably be an administrative nightmare that would be counterproductive to the Government aim to reduce congestion on the roads, reduce pollution, and get more people cycling.

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