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What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

On Bike Tax

Recently, I started reading articles on a new site called GOOD. I was surprised to find this ridiculous proposition here. The logic is essentially that since bicycles are vehicles, riders should pay taxes for upkeep. While it is true that in North America car owners pay certain registration fees and taxes that fund public roads, there are several reasons why this is simply unacceptable to impose on cyclists.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, a tax on bikes would disincentivise commuters to ride to work as well as people to ride for pleasure. This is very damaging to a positive trajectory in sustainability. Even in a crucial era where making environmentally-conscious choices is absolutely imperative, it is not surprising that there are debates around "foreign" ideas like investing in infrastructure outside of suburbs and SUVs.

For many environmentalists, the answer to the ecological crisis is more technology and more capitalism – a theory known as ecological modernisation. And since there are no great profits for corporations to make, no massive repair and certification industry, and no jobs that are dependent on the manufacture of on bicycles, this sustainable effort is viewed as backward - and dangerous. Considering that the automotive industry, its lobbyists, and its supporters and consumers make up such a substantial number of North Americans, it is not surprising that government is leery of change. James Gustave Speth, an environmental writer and former politician, wrote on the supremacy of the economy (read: jobs), he characterises as “the shared cause of all people on Earth” (read: Americans).

Another problem is that it is unrealistic to ask for cyclists to pay for road upkeep because, generally, roads are maintained for cars and trucks. Very few roads are made to accommodate bikes with dedicated lanes, special paths, or wider shoulders. How are municipalities to collect from cyclists and then invest that money directly or proportionately into amenities for bikes. And frankly, what's next, a tax for pedestrians? According to a variety of lists of bike-friendly cities in North America, even some of the best locales such as Ottawa, Phoenix, Chicago, or Montréal have a mixed bike/car infrastructure at best, but generally favour cars. Regardless, there is still the construction of good infrastructure, like Ottawa's 220km of trails and Montréal's bixi programme.

With respect to enforceability there are some pretty significant problems. While all cars that change hands are recorded by the state, this isn't the case for bicycles. In general, there is no equivalent to pulling a bike out of someone's roadside trash, the prevalence of theft, or getting a barely functioning handmedown from a distant relative. Obviously, we are now in the territory of insurance. Details records are kept on cars because insurance is such an enormous component of the industry - and of course there is no need to regulate the bike industry with safety or insurance measures. And keep in mind that many who ride their bikes already have drivers licences and own cars.

Although the perspective of taxing cyclists is absolutely absurd, it does mean that state and capital are taking cycling far more seriously. Hopefully in the coming years there will be many more locales in Canada and the United States that have transit systems like those in Western Europe. In the meantime, it's worthwhile trying to find ways to make our lives less dependent on cars - whether through public transit, ridesharing, or getting on a bike.

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