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“Those bloomin’ cyclists, in their silly outfits. They should be paying road tax if they want to use our roads!”
It’s a caricature for sure, but it certainly rings familiar. And frustrated motorists have a point, don’t they?
After all, if other vehicles are paying road tax, then surely cyclists should too.
But there’s a problem…
Do Cyclists Pay Road Tax in the UK?
Road tax doesn’t exist, so nobody pays it. Roads are actually maintained through local and general taxation. So, cyclists paying these taxes are paying towards roads.
‘Road tax’, as many still mistakenly refer to it, was abolished in 1937 and replaced with Vehicle Excise Duty Tax (VED). But this ‘car tax’, as it’s also known, doesn’t go directly back into the roads. It goes into the general Treasury fund.
Irate drivers have been known to retort that they have more right to be on the roads than cyclists, because they “pay for the roads”. It’s a misguided argument because, quite simply, they don’t. At least, no more than any cyclist.
Why Don’t Cyclists Pay Vehicle Excise Duty Tax?
Cyclists don’t pay Vehicle Excise Duty Tax because they produce emissions. Ultra-low emissions vehicles are exempted from the tax. Bikes, giving off none at all, are as ultra-low as it gets and therefore aren’t required to pay VED either.
VED could now be classed as a ‘pollution’ tax as the amount people pay is dependent on vehicle size and emissions. Given this criteria, cyclists shouldn’t have to pay, in spite of the occasional angry motorist’s insistence.
In spite of various campaigns – most notably from one of the UK’s largest newspaper groups in 2020 – it’s unlikely that cyclists will ever have to pay VED. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this particular campaign was run with a staggering failure to check any actual facts. And the facts, unquestionably, support cyclists.
Should Cyclists Pay ‘Road Tax’?
Yes they should, if we’re talking about expenditure on roads. Cyclists are using the roads and it’s in their interests to have the roads well-maintained. But it shouldn’t be an exclusive road tax. They should contribute in the same way as any other road user.
That said, according to a study, 82% of cyclists stated that they would prefer not to cycle among traffic. Given that cyclists are contributing towards road maintenance, this should also include adaptations for cyclists. For safety and environmental reasons, there are clear advantages for the creation of more bike lanes on roads, and separate bike paths.
Between 2016 and 2020 there was an increase of nearly 2,500,000 people in England taking to the roads on their bikes. A government report states that cycling has increased by 200% at weekends since the first Covid 19 lockdown, and by 100% on weekdays.
Cycling is booming. But in spite of a pledge by the government to increase spending on ‘active travel’ to £2.4 billion between 2016-21, we still have some way to go before we’re using the term “mini-Hollands” for any of our towns.
Do Any Countries Tax Cycling?
No countries specifically tax cycling, other than through general taxation that goes in part towards roads. But cyclists in many countries pay a sales tax when purchasing a new bike.
But this is changing rapidly, with hundreds of tax breaks and incentive schemes now offered across Europe to promote cycling. Indeed, some countries, such as the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and New Zealand, are actually paying people to cycle.
Cycling is clearly one of the most eco-friendly ways to travel. Whether people are cycling to work or ride for pleasure (or both), it’s not only great for the environment but it’s healthy too. Whatever issues still exist, there is definitely a growing mindset from many governments to encourage more people to get on their bikes. And this has to be positive.