Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bike Registration Fee In Spokane?

In today's print edition of the Spokesman Review an article about taxing private parking lots to make up for lost tax revenue elsewhere also contained an inset stating that City Councilman Jon Snyder is studying the creation of a bike registration fee. That bit is not present in the online version of the article.

Snyder is quoted as researching the idea and that a proposal could emerge this year. Councilman Richard Rush is quoted as saying the fee is "a very interesting concept" that he is open to especially if the money is used for bike trails and other bike improvements.

I find this news disturbing for two reasons. First of all, it's included in an article about the city looking to increase tax revenues. Consequently, bike registration could be no more about theft prevention than photo red is about safety. Secondly, there's no information about what bike registration would entail leaving this wide open to conjecture, hence the sentence that precedes this one.

As luck would have it I ran into Jon Snyder this afternoon and asked him about this. He was kind enough to fill in the blanks for me. Here's the gist of it.

He told Jonathan Brunt, the Review reporter, that this was premature. He's looking at adding a fee to every new bike sold which would go towards bike facilities and not into the general fund. However, he believes state law must first change before that fee would be permitted. The money raised would be matched by state or federal funds and again be for bike facilities. The city is looking at a huge deficit and needs to be creative in meeting shortfalls. Last of all, he welcomes cyclists to join in on the discussion and the process.

*** Update ***

Jon Snyder sent me this link from his site where he explains in greater detail.

Let me count the reasons: 1) The City has adopted a very popular Master Bike Plan that does not have dedicated funding for implementation, 2) diseases of inactivity are of epidemic proportions in Spokane County where at least 20,000 have diabetes, 3) kids lack safe routes to schools, 4) bicycle transportation saves on fuel and puts more money back into local economy, and 5) state and federal transportation funding are more rewarding communities that put in more bike facilities and complete streets strategies. I could go on.


Anonymous said...

Bike registration fees, licenses, etc are just punitive measures towards bikes in most places.

I also doubt revenue from a purchase tax could be segregated, but I'll keep an open mind to Snyder's idea. I do note that every bike commuter who replaces a car likely saves the city big money, so the rationale that cyclists pay for bike improvements is strained.

Then again, if some of my friends had to register all their bicycles for a fee, we could probably balance the city, state, and federal budgets.

Barb Chamberlain said...

I want to do more homework on this to understand the pros and cons.

I've seen a discussion somewhere (will look around for the link) suggesting that bike registration programs cost more to administer than they bring in, so it actually goes the wrong direction as far as revenue.

You wouldn't see that at first blush because enforcement costs would be posted to the police budget (presumably?), while revenues would be collected and put in the bike budget. But as taxpayers we can't ignore the hidden cost.

If we pass it with no intention of enforcing it, then it's pointless.

If we pass it and it's enforced aggressively against people who perhaps don't have the means to pay--think of people who ride a bike because that's their main transportation or they've lost their driver's license--we're creating a new burden in collections and penalizing people for being poor.

If it's something you have to renew annually (more a license than a registration) it becomes a hassle and therefore a barrier to biking, which I'm sure is not the direction Jon wants to go.

Jon's description is more of a tax on new bike sales than it is a full-blown registration of ALL bikes on the street, at least as I read it. He has said he intends to discuss it with local bike shop owners, whose support would be critical. Car dealers don't handle vehicle licensing--Dept. of Motor Vehicles does.


Anonymous said...

So, if cyclists don't register our bikes in a new bureaucracy, we are responsible for diabetes? C'mon Jon!

Basically, what Barb said.

Low compliance rates and lack of government reciprocity are related issues for bike registration attempts. Bike stores will resist slapping a fee and paperwork on bicycle sales, particularly for out of town buyers who won't be using Spokane's bike lanes. But, if the city makes an exception for out of towners, everyone may use it.

Also, if a Spokanistani buys a bike in CdA, why shouldn't that bike be registered in Spokane? But that just leads to registering all bikes, trikes, etc.--very costly bureaucracy, especially if registration is to be maintained up to date as bikes are sold, taken out of town, and retd. Are kids bikes included? Gifted bikes? What's the penalty for not regustering: a ticket? A fine? Court costs?

How many towns would you have to register your bike in? Would Gonzaga students have register them in Spokane and back home? Do you have to register and pay a fee in every town you ride through? If Spokane has this tax, why won't other cities? Will Spokane other city registration systems?

Creating a new tax to provide new services won't balance the budget--that's revenue neutral. New taxes will only help offset deficits if the city stops spending on bike lanes etc from other sources. Not good for bikers. In any case, Jon has to be clear which he is proposing--I assume he means to protect current spending and add a new revenue source, but his language is confusing.

Increasing bike safety increases motor vehicle safety. We share the same roads, and even when a bike path removes cyclists from a road, that increases motor vehicle safety. It also helps remaining motorists when a car is repaced by a bicycle. So, why should bicyclists pay a segregated fee for bike projects that also benefit cars? We are ALL traffic.

Finally, a tax is not registration. Registration sounds like some sort of creepy Homeland Security overstepping. Who needs it? It seems unlikely a fee could cover anything more than maintain the registration bureacracy.

If a tax/fee, why also registration?

Anonymous said...

No way will it stay separate from the general fund. When they need money it will be raided and borrowed from just like everything else. I don't trust it one bit.

Not said...

Maybe it's useful here to remind pro-fee people (not that I see any of them posting) of the reason cars must be registered. Cars kill, maim, and destroy (well, car drivers do; the car is just the tool they use.) Many drivers try to get away with this behavior by leaving the scene of an accident, and car registration gives us one tool to locate these drivers.

When bicyclists are somehow killing tens of thousands of people per year in the US, bicycle registration will be a good idea.
- Ventura

Anonymous said...

What if I am a mountain biker and don't ride on the roads? Why would I want to pay? Would there be an increase in the recovery rate for stolen bikes if they are registered? Other than a new source of revenue (I guess we don't even want to call a tax a tax) then what is the upside?

Anonymous said...

I'll be happy to pay for a bike license just as soon as every inch of road - new or maintained - is paid for only with user fees (gas taxes, tolls, and registrations).

Drew said...

Here's my pro-registration statement:
I'd support bike registration if it was free and designed to help recover stolen bikes.

But, I think the paid registration system is a lousy one.

Cost of enforcement would probably undermine generated revenue.

Does Spokane have enough cyclists to raise the kind of revenue planners think they need? I remain doubtful that enough money would be raised to stripe/paint bike lanes or install bike racks around the city.

Cyclists SAVE the area money by reducing impact on roadways and facilities.

Most of the cyclists I know ALSO own cars and pay registration, taxes and fees on those vehicles already. They choose to bike and help other motorists by reducing roadway congestion in the process.

Don't create barriers to bicycling! We want as many people as possible choosing to bicycle vs. driving, right?

gillsans said...

I've been thinking about this and the only scenario I foresee being successful is essentially a tax on new bikes sold in the City.

They could give you a sticker proclaiming you've paid your taxes and registered your bike, but realistically no one would enforce it if it were required for all bikes ridden on City streets.

Perhaps a voluntary donation would work (although it would generate much less money). Something like the "Would you like to donate $5 to State Parks?" box on your car registration form where a person buying a bike would be asked "Would you like to donate $20 to register your bike with the Police and for Spokane Biking Infastructure?"

Jon Snyder said...

Thanks everybody for the great feedback. Here's a few responses to concerns that people have brought up:

- It is actually very easy to segregate dedicated bike funds in the City budget especially if those funds have dedicated source. The B.A.B. could be used as the watchdog/gatekeeper of these funds. The City already does something similar with the Human Services Advisory Board.

- Bureaucratic costs aren't likely to make a dent on this money. The city has a new system that will eventually allow these transactions to occur online and right now there are less then 20 places that sell new in Spokane--I have been told by city staff that such a small reporting number would need minimal administration.

- People who don't have the means to pay: Since this is proposed to only be done on new bikes the assumption is that anyway who can afford a new bike can afford an additional $15-30 to help fund the Master Bike Plan (and aid police in recovering stolen bikes.) This could be done on a voluntary basis but I would be concerned we would never capture sales from big box stores and put local bike shops at a disadvantage to them.

- Bike shops need to be interested in this idea, if they aren't it is a non-starter. The whole concept, if done right, should basically have a long term effect in helping shops sell more bicycles; registrations fees would = more bicycle infrastructure, more bike infrastructure would = more people riding, more people riding would = more people buying more bikes.

I'm open to other ideas on how we can help speed the funding of the Master Bike Plan, I'm not wedded to the registration concept. I would like to challenge the local cycling community to come up with other options or consider getting behind the registration concept. Personally I am not willing to wait on this--we need to figure how to fund more bike and complete streets facilities now. A big chunk of what I do everyday is fighting for bicyclist's, pedestrian's, and transit rider's fair share of our government transportation dollars--a fair share that we are not getting right now since our impact on the transportation system is so much less than motor vehicle use.

One thing that holds us back is that Spokane (and Eastern WA in general) has no cycling advocacy organization with full time employees that can help fight the funding and political battles from outside government. Folks like Barb and myself are a part of a group of folks that spend a lot of time and energy on these issues--but we need more people to join us. Anonymous blog comments are one thing, but they are no substitute for going to meetings and standing up in public and demanding our fair share of the transportation pie.

Thanks for reading this and may the dialogue continue.

Hank Greer said...

Hmm, looks like Jon got some people talking. That's good.

While I'm not averse to the surtax idea, since we have shops/stores close enough but outside of Spokane then we have the issue of Spokane shops/stores losing sales to Spokane Valley, etc., making it easy and worthwhile to avoid the surtax.

Another option is to add a $1.00 fee to every bike-related event that has registration. That would involve mountain bikes, racers, Spokefest, etc. A dollar more wouldn't be a burden and cyclists would be chipping in to support their infrastructure. It may not raise a ton of money, but it would be easier to count on than an easily avoided surtax--provided other legal technicalities don't interfere.

Anonymous said...

I still don't see the connection between a new tax and registration. If I buy a TV, I pay sales tax, but I don't give my name and adress to a TV registry. When I buy gas, I pay gas tax, but I don't register it.

A tax can be collected without registration, and registration will always be an added cost, no matter how cheap. If the cops are involved to enforce, that is a whole 'nother kettle of worms. Maybe we need registration, but we don't need it for revenue. Registration is a cost. Registration needs a separate rationale.

I don't think Jon quite addresses whether new revenue will replace old revenue sources for bike projects. That would help the budget, but not cycling. Even if funds can be segregated, segegation is meaningless if new revenue becomes an excuse to remove old revenue sources.

Bringing up diabetes is somewhat irrelevant, because sin taxes are supposed to be leveled on, well, sin. Sedentary driving causes diabetes, not bicycles. It will not encourage a family to buy bikes for their kids if each $100 Wallyworld bike now costs $130, instead of $100. Of course, Jon is right that safer routes will encourage more riding, so this point is mixed.

Jon's best argument is capturing federal or state matching funds that might otherwise be lost. What kind of money are we talking?

There are some wealthy cyclists in this town. Maybe it would be possible to capture some fed bucks with a donation pool?

More general taxation, please.

I like Hank's idea, plus a donation option on the signup forms. As long as donations don't decrease spending from general tax revenues.

Finally, will the city commit to building good infrastructure throughout the city, and not focus road improvements on higher tax base neighborhoods?

Publius said...

Jon Snyder wrote:

-" Bureaucratic costs aren't likely to make a dent on this money. The city has a new system that will eventually allow these transactions to occur online and right now there are less"

Might this be the main story? Why does the city have a new system to monitor cituzen bike purchases (or all purchases)? How much did it cost? Are we now seeking to retroactively fund it through bike fees? Are we now trying to justify its existence retroactively?

This story is sounding like the federal stimulus, which went to buy survellance cameras and full body scanners at the Spokane Airport.

Owning a bike is not a crime. What is Spokane up to with a system to force bicyclists to register? Are we already being registered?

"Right now there are less." So, in the future there will be more? Like, everyone will be forced to register?