Saturday 28 April 2012

Road Tax...

.. is a topic I have consciously ignored on this blog. Simply because anyone who trots out the road-tax argument as to why car drivers can treat cyclists badly is either unable to use reason or is trolling. Either way it doesn't compel me to engage with the argument.

However, "road-tax" has been in the news again courtesy of the cyclists' friend, John Griffin - boss of Addison Lee. Who thinks cyclists should be told "You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up".

Ignoring the rather presumptuous assertion that anyone would actually want to be part of Mr Griffin's gang in the first place, the issue of tax - specifically "road tax" - is used time and again. Yet it is such a bizarre argument that countering it incurs the danger of being dragged down to the same level. Yes, it is true that "road-tax" was abandoned in the 1930's and it is actually Vehicle Excise Duty which is basically a (rather crude) pollution tax. Yes, the roads, like pretty much everything else, is paid out of a central pot; there isn't a special fund to build and maintain roads whose income is derived from "road-tax". Yes, there is a coherent argument that says the total externalities of cars actually comes to a lot more than the money derived from "road-tax".

But all of this is trying to present logical arguments against a premise that is fundamentally illogical. And the people who use the "road-tax" argument aren't looking to engage in rational debate.

However, when I hear the "road-tax" argument, I do wish to run this to its logical conclusions. 

Firstly, the argument is based upon the assumption that paying more tax infers more rights. This is an exciting development. I have, for many years, had company cars. My last one was a large, rather plush, "executive saloon" which had a large engine and a CO2 emission that wouldn't have pleased anyone in the Green party. I paid quite an extra-ordinary amount in tax for the privilege of sitting in traffic in a leather seat, and when I chose my latest vehicle, I decided to forfeit a badge and leather seats for something that cost me less in tax. According to the "I pay roadtax" philosophy does this now mean I have less rights on the road? How about people driving smart cars or a Prius? Since they don't pay "road-tax" should they be bullied to the side of the road by those that do?

And why should the concept of inferring more rights based on tax paid be used solely with road transport? Why not infer more rights for, say education or NHS access based upon tax paid? How about those who pay more tax having more "rights" to influence where that tax is paid by access to politicians and government? 

Of course this is all nonsense, because the idea that paying more tax infers more rights is also - generally - nonsense. Actually it is something that is usually viewed as undemocratic and unhealthy to society - just look at the scandals involving the very wealthy and politicians. 

Cyclists and pedestrians have a right to the road in law which isn't extended to driving motor vehicles who use the road only by permission. 

So, as much as Mr Griffin wants to blather on about road-tax, the simple fact is that, thankfully, we don't need to "join his gang" to use the road.


  1. Agree. Anyway, the idea that cyclists would be treated any differently if they paid tax( for not polluting and not damaging roads?) is dubious.

  2. I used to fill vending machines in a local A&E and believe me you would still get morons thinking they should be dealt with first... "Don't you idiots know how much I pay in tax!!?" was shouted into the face of a nurse on more than one occasion.

  3. Usually these 'clients' shout much ruder things while foolishly trying to persuade the Triage Nurse how a six month old injury they sustained during some drink fuelled escapade - for which they have not sought any help till this point or indeed taken any analgesia of any sort - still needs to be treated straight away as it is "a real emergency"!

    These people don't quite understand the concepts of 'emergency' or 'road funding' and likely don't contribute a huge amount in tax either. I try not to pay them much heed but do sometimes like to confuse them by explaining how the real world actually works. Very satisfying.

  4. You're quite right that the amount of tax one has paid doesn't make a difference to one's right to receive a free-at-the-point-of-use service. I had an argument once with a woman who said I had no right to cycle on the road because I didn't pay road tax. It was on a borough-maintained road in Lambeth near the border with Southwark and she might well have come from the Southwark direction. Would she have accepted the argument that I, as a cycling Lambeth council tax payer, had a better right to use the road than she as a driving Southwark council tax payer? I'm guessing not.

    One does need to recognise, however, that, however poorly people understand the finances, people are upset at the amount of tax they pay to use the roads. The only response, I think, can be to point out that motoring doesn't seem to pay for itself in taxes and cyclists who pay higher-rate tax (such as I) are consequently subsidising them. I don't expect to get far with this argument.

    But I make it, with other points about the costs of cycling, here:

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  6. But is it really a "pollution tax" seeing as cars over a certain age are also exempt? But, that said, do drivers that pay Vehicile Excise Duty consider drivers of vintage cars to have fewer rights to use the roads? No, I doubt it.

  7. In my opinion it's simple. There are bad motorists and bad cyclists and both of these give each group a bad reputation.

    However I dispute a cyclists right to use the road until they have undertaken and passed a valid theory test. I am fed up with cyclists either running red lights or almost knocking me down on the pavement when the jump onto it in order to go through a green man and hence avoid the red light.
    In order to enforce this cyclists should surely require a registration plate and be subject to the same penalty's for improper cycling as a driver would receive for improper driving.

    Until this is common practice there will continue to be arguments between cyclists and drivers.

    I agree with the article however that cyclists have as much right to not pay road tax as low emission cars do.

    1. Your assertion that registration plates and theory tests would help is disproved by the standard of driving one can witness on a daily basis, where the drivers presumably have both.

  8. walking dogs and son in the woods,on a footpath.Around the bend came a lycra fettished clad muppet,trying to beat his personal best, on his beefed up halfords mountain bike.Didnt stop,if he had hit us what proof of ID would i have to bring charges of, undue care and atention to the vehicle user.I suppose a limp bodey in lycra presented to the police would be sufficient,I used the minimum amount of force officer. to make a citizen arrest officer.