You Don’t Have To Be A Genius To Know Bike Registration Is Dumb


Hey Freakonomics, how could you get so much so wrong in five short sentences?

A blog post this week highlights Oregon Representative Wayne Krieger’s proposal to charge cyclists a biannual registration fee and parrots his assertion that cyclists don’t contribute to the roads they ride and do similar damage to roads as vehicles. 

In an interview with Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland, Rep. Krieger is clearly upset that Oregon’s vulnerable road users law
puts too much responsibility on motorists to wield there vehicles
responsibly and thinks that if cyclists keep getting bike lanes, they
should pay more for them.  Some of the illuminating snippets:

This is an opportunity for the bicyclists to start contributing to our
roads. If you want to have something that everybody is going
to use, than everybody needs to contribute to what’s there… if there
were not bicycles we wouldn’t need bicycle lanes.

Talk about a time when you need some revenue for transportation…bikes
have used the roads in this state forever and have never contributed a
penny. The only people that pay into the system are those people who
buy motor vehicle licenses and registration fees.

a small fee discourages something, I would suggest they probably aren’t
very ardent to the cause to start with. I think there are very few
people who would stop biking because of the fee.

The worst part of the Freakonomics post is the kicker: "Considering the enormous benefits
of investments in bicycle infrastructure, can even a tax-hating
bicyclist concede his point, at a registration cost of just over 7
cents a day?"

Hell no!  Not conceding anything.

If you follow your own link it will lead to a study that shows
cycling is not only healthier for you as an individual, and thus
reduces your health care costs, but better for the country’s economic
bottom line:

In addition to reductions in health costs, the analyses also take into
account that a change from travel by car to cycling or walking means
reduced external costs (e.g. air pollution and noise) from motorized
traffic and reduced parking costs. The benefits of investments in cycle
networks are estimated to be at least 4–5 times the costs. Such
investments are thus more beneficial to society than other transport

on the other hand, account for nearly 43,000 annual deaths and cost the
nation $164.2 billion annually, according to AAA.  That doesn’t account for the costs of the roads, the massive land costs associated with nearly universal free parking, and the

And how do you demonstrate the claim that cyclists hate paying taxes?  Or hate it more than motorists? 

Cyclists pay taxes for road repair because many cyclists own cars and
because many roads are paid for from other sources besides the
gas tax and vehicle registration fees.  About the only place the cost of maintaining a road is borne exclusively by the gas tax is on the Interstate Freeway network, and guess what, cyclists are verboten on those roads.

Cyclists also pay a number of other costs incurred by vehicle owners, for example, the subsidization of city streets for the mostly free storage of private property (i.e. cars on parking on streets).  If you want to really ride this out, cyclists that pay sewer bills in cities with combined sewer systems like San Francisco’s pay for decontaminating the water that runs off streets largely polluted by vehicles.

The damage that cyclists do to roads compared to cars and trucks is almost too small to count.  According to the Highway Design Manual, the effective damage done to the road is roughly proportional to the 4th power of axle weight.  A fully loaded tractor trailer does 7,800 times more damage than a two-ton vehicle.  A 200 pound bicycle with rider does roughly 1/33000th as much damage as a 2700 pound Honda Civic Hybrid.

Are you, good Freakonomists, suggesting that despite a national commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the country’s oil addiction and attendant foreign policy boondoggles, and the demonstrable health, economic, and environmental benefits of cycling, you would support the introduction of a cost deterrent to being on the right side of history?

Unlike some of the cogent posts on the blog by UCLA Planning Department doctoral student Eric Morris, this doesn’t even pass the Rob Anderson laugh test. 

I hope Freakonomics will go back to interpreting data instead of bias.

Flickr photo: Aggtastic

  • The worst part of the Freakonomics post is the kicker: “Considering the enormous benefits of investments in bicycle infrastructure, can even a tax-hating bicyclist concede his point, at a registration cost of just over 7 cents a day?”

    I’d still be getting ripped off if all that money went to cycling infrastructure. More likely the entire amount is eaten up administering the program, and even if the remnants went to cycling infrastructure, it would probably just give the state the opportunity to take away current funding, resulting in no net gain.

  • When do we start registering feet? I mean sidewalks cost alot of money…

  • Someone rush this man to one of Obama’s scientific reeducation camps where he can learn the laws of physics!


  • Nice to see you covering this! I went over some of the many reasons Rep. Krieger is off his Krocker, over at the progressive community site Loaded Orygun. Check it out.

  • Thanos

    Man, just pony up the bucks. Ain’t no free ride here.

  • Jef Poskanzer

    I don’t care about the registration part, but for the fee to be fair it should actually be negative. We should *get paid for biking*, because we save society money via avoided road-building costs, avoided congestion, etc.

  • jim

    Nobody said cyclist don’t pay for roads we just want them to help pay for bike lanes.also they should have a licence plate. That would help with theft and in oregon we are asking cyclists to pay $27.00 per year for there cause. Is that to much to pay to benefit your cause?The money would help to pay for bike lanes and other bike related things.Why is it that cyclists are not willing to help there own cause?

  • jim

    TJ,For your info the car registration fee will be trippled here soon.So the cost for bikes will be 1/3 of the cost of a car and the damage is not caused by bikes it is caused by the weather bike lanes need to be repainted, cleaned and maintaned.Cyclists should pay to keep up the bike lanes

  • Pat

    If you try real hard you can extract one good thing from all this. The fact that cyclists seem to be angering stupid people more and more could be an indicator of cycling’s increasing popularity. As this continues, there will be a stronger political movement to push policy farther away from utter horse sh*t like this. I also like all the comments on the blog extending the logic to charging people for walking.

    Really, Wayne Krieger just wants to help cyclists right? I expect soon he will propose a discounted housing for cyclists too, which is so nice of him. It will have to be consolidated into one area obviously. And since a lot of drivers are angry at cyclists, the housing section would need barbed wire fences for cyclists protection. Snipers too, for our protection of course. Also we would need to carry our registration cards with us wherever we went, just to make sure we are contributing to the wear we put on roads. Since it is probably dangerous to ride at night, cyclists would have need to have a curfew as well. Really, we could just outsource some forms of employment to the Cyclist’s Quarter to make the trip to work shorter and convenient. Since they never need to leave, we could put a big lock on the exits and never have to worry about it again. This could all be done on $27 a year I am sure!

  • Local streets are paid for out of a city’s general funds, mostly paid for by property taxes, sales taxes, etc. Bicyclists pay as much as drivers to maintain the streets, but we have much less use of the streets. The typical street is two traffic lanes used by bikes and cars plus two parking lanes used exclusively by cars: from that fact alone, drivers use twice as much of the street space that we all pay for.

    In addition, bicycling benefits society as a whole by reducing congestion, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. Transit riders are subsidized $3 or more for each trip they take, because of the environmental benefits of transit. Bicycles have even greater environmental benefits than transit and get virtually no funding. If we spent 10% as much to subsidize each bicyclist as we now spend to subsidize each transit rider, we would have more than enough for bicycle infrastructure.

  • CBrinkman

    The Oregon politician is just pandering I assume – but the Freakonomics post is very disappointing because their reason for existence is to think things through from an economics point of view. They totally failed to do that in that throw away little post. I’d like to see them really delve into this one and determine that yes, everyone should pay their fair share and that cyclists and pedestrians have been subsidizing drivers lo these many years.

  • “Personally, I think that somebody must have been bullied as a child, and had his bike taken away from him. Someone should buy him a shiny new bike and take him for a ride. If he can’t handle the pedaling, let’s get him a bike motor. Once he feels the wind in his hair again, he’ll probably change his mind.”

    Should cyclists have to pay to register their bicycles? Wayne Krieger says they need to “start contributing.”

  • Bike Registry should be FREE, like the Internet!!
    http://www.BikeRegistry is Free.
    And it works!