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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 17 March 2009

If you ride a bike on a public street, several state lawmakers want you to register that vehicle with the state of Oregon.

Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, is sponsoring a mandatory registration bill that would essentially treat bicycles like automobiles. Every adult who owns a bike that is ridden on a public street would be required to pay $54 every two years to the state of Oregon – the same price  it currently costs to register a car and $14 more than it costs to register a motorcycle.

The bill would also create a registry accessible by law enforcement agencies and would create fines for anyone who failed to register or who altered or damaged a bike's serial number.

Krieger and his supporters have said it is about bringing equity to transportation by making cyclists pay an extra fee for the infrastructure they use. Cycling advocates unilaterally oppose the bill, saying the bill would reduce and discourage cycling, be unenforceable, and ignores the variety of transportation funding sources. It would also have a negative effect on low-income and homeless people who rely on bicycles as their sole mode of transportation.

Although Krieger did not return repeated calls from The Skanner, he told BikePortland.org that "we need to be thinking of how (cyclists) can help fund more of what they want."

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance came out in opposition to the bill, but support a discussion about different ways to increase funding for bicycle infrastructure. Currently, transportation departments across the state spend about 1 percent of their budgets on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

"Bikes have used the roads in this state forever and have never contributed a penny," Krieger told BikePortland.org editor Jonathon Maus. "The only people that pay into the system are those people who buy motor vehicle licenses and registration fees."

According to a 2004 study by the BTA, 94 percent of adult bicycle commuters also have a license to drive and own a car. But fees paid to the Department of Motor Vehicles finance only a small percentage of transportation.

The Oregon Department of Transportation collects $105 million from lottery proceeds; $1.01 billion from the federal government; $1 million from the state general fund; $915 from bonds; $995 million from fuels tax; $146 million from tax transfers from cigarette and property taxes; $947 million from driver and vehicle licenses, as well as several other funding sources that include property sales and interest income. Almost 100 percent of vehicle fees collected at the DMV go to financing the highway fund. ODOT also distributes about $1 billion to cities and counties for their transportation budgets.

If the bill were to become law, low-income and homeless persons would be particularly hard hit by fees and the fines that would accompany any failure to comply.

"There are a significant number of homeless and low-income individuals who rely on bicycles," said Karl Rhode, of the BTA.

The nonprofit Community Cycling Center operates a successful Create a Commuter Program. That program will donate fully equipped commuter bikes to about 230 low-income residents in Portland this year.

Executive Director Susan Remmers said they were "concerned about anything that would discourage or create barriers for people using bicycles." Funding for the commuter program is holding steady, but it hasn't been able to expand, she said. An extra fee on individuals who are making minimum wage – as well as many who are trying to resume a normal life after being incarcerated – could create another societal barrier.

She said the center was watching the bill's progress closely.

"I don't' think it's a fair and balanced approach," she said. "Transportation funding is complex and multifaceted. But bikes generally offset the costs (of the infrastructure)."

And certain choices that drivers make cost far more in maintenance than is spent on bicycle infrastructure in the year. Take studded tires, for instance – a transportation choice that is not subjected to extra registration or taxation. According to Patrick Cooney, ODOT spokesman, the department spends about $11 million "per year that we would not have had to do were it not for studded tires."

Compare that to the $4 million the department spends on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, which includes sidewalks, striping for bike lanes, and lighting.

Cooney said it was nearly impossible to know how much of an impact an increase in cycling has had on road maintenance. Because of its weight, a bicycle creates little to no pavement damage compared to cars and trucks. In Portland, bicycle trips across four major bridges have increase from about 12,000 in 2006 to about 16,000 in 2008, according to Portland Department of Transportation. 

The effort to extract extra fees from bike riders does come at a time that transportation budgets are strained and cost of materials has increased 70 percent since 1993, according to a 2006 League of Oregon Cities report. Gov. Ted Kulongoski has even proposed a mileage fee that would more accurately collect taxes based on the amount of time a vehicle spends on the road.

But even if bikes were forced to register, it is unclear if those fees would produce more money than it would cost to administer the program.

Many other efforts across the country have failed. The state of California allows municipalities to set up bicycle licensing programs, but the Los Angeles Police Department recommended the city end the program two months ago. According to reports on la.streetsblog.org, police began sporadically enforcing the ordinance, charging some to accuse the police of using threat of citation as a tool for oppression.

In Detroit, a similar law – on the books since 1964 – required bike licenses in order to return stolen bicycles in the event of a theft. Not having a license resulted in a $55 fine. The Detroit City Council repealed the law this summer, shortly after police announced they'd begun ticketing non-compliant cyclists.

The main difference between Krieger's bill and the experience of California and Detroit is cost. Detroit charged $5 for five years; Los Angeles charged $2 for three. But the complaints against the law were the same – police now had another tool in which to stop and fine members of the public, and they weren't doing it in a consistent manner.

The proposed bill is currently languishing in the legislature and has not had a hearing yet. Krieger has said he doesn't have high hopes for the bill's passage, but expects it to start a dialogue about transportation funding.


Gas Tax: $995 million
Federal Government: $1.01 billion
Weight Mileage Tax: $785 million
DMV fees: $947 million
Transfers (cigarette tax, construction tax): $146
General Fund: $1 million
Lottery: $105 million
Bonds: $915 million
Sales: $35 million
Other: $6 million

City of Portland:
Daily bicycle trips during summer months over the four bike friendly bridges:
12,046 in 2006-07
14,053 in 2007-08
16,711 in 2008-09 (estimated)
19,300 in 2009-10 (targeted)

Revenue stream for city's Bureau of Transportation:
Licenses/Permits $1,280,695
Service Charges/Fees $31,303
Grants $9,499,841
State Sources $48,073,303
Bond & Note Sales: $3,498,063

Over the next 5 years, the city will spend $4.3 million in bicycle capital improvement projects funded by grants. The city rarely uses money from the general fund to finance such projects.

Transportation is 14 percent of overall city budget;
Total expenditures were $174,834,959, with an operating budget of $104,094,000;
Next year's requested budget is $243,042,000 total expenditures;
Money spent on "alternative transportation" planning and operation is $2,518,791 and includes money for biking, carpool incentives, and transit incentives





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