Do bikes freeload on taxpayer-supported roads?

Frank Touby —

Motor vehicle licence tags are instituted for two reasons. First it is to identify each vehicle in case a liability issue arises. Events such as an accident or damage to property or violations of traffic law need identification in order to attribute liability. Of equal importance, licence tags are also required to provide revenue to pay for the roads and their maintenance, traffic signals, traffic cops and traffic courts and to enforce parking bylaws.

Roads are a major infrastructure feature in all cities, taking up a huge chunk of the land. It’s only right that those who use the roads pay the costs of providing and maintaining the roads. Transit riders pay for their road use when they insert their fares into a fare box or use other payment methods. Pedestrians don’t use the roads except to cross them.

So “shank’s mare” or “leg transit” rightly isn’t taxable. True, we do provide at city expense the sidewalks to separate them from the road traffic. But that’s a basic expense all residents contribute to in their municipal taxes. There is large category of road users who get an absolutely free ride. And there is an aggressive component of those free riders who lord it over other road users and some even lord it over pedestrians.

A minority contingent of anarchic cyclists seemingly thinks of their pedalling proclivity as a moral pinnacle from which they are rightly able to look down upon pedestrians—and especially on motor vehicles—and cast aspersions or insults or even physical assaults.

How often have you been walking near a bike path and heard the tinkle of a bell and then an impatient command to move? If you’re among those in motor vehicle traffic, which bike-superiority moralizers scorn, you’re an object to revile and many enjoy letting you hear about it.

It starts with a tinkle of the bell and an outraged voice. Maybe a slap or a kick on your detested vehicle. Toronto has for a long time been schizophrenic about motorized traffic. Cars and trucks are an absolute necessity, of course, but the city sets about to make the driving experience as miserable as taking public transit.

For one thing, there is a mysterious reluctance to coordinate traffic signals so that motor traffic can run smoothly at lawful speeds without the stop-and-go of uncoordinated signals. It seems the city has always been at war with the car, ensuring the driving experience is as uncomfortable as riding a jam-packed subway or streetcar.

Streetcars are a ridiculous feature that has been with the city since 1861. Back then they made more sense than they do now since vehicular traffic was not a problem. Nowadays cars and trucks are seriously slowed by them because they’re right in the middle of each side of the street and when a streetcar stops, everything behind it also must stop. And streetcars stop a lot.

To add to the misery for drivers, the city has been creating expensive wide bicycle lanes for a relatively few cyclists. If you’re stuck in traffic during Toronto’s several daily rush hours, you’ll notice the lightly travelled bike lanes aren’t congested at all. It’s a lot of expensive traffic-disrupting infrastructure for not much use.

Shouldn’t cyclists contribute to the funding and maintenance of this facility? Otherwise it’s a free ride for them at the expense of all city taxpayers. One solution to make things fairer for those of us who don’t use bicycles as our main transportation is to require securely fitted licence plates on all adult-size bicycles and 3-wheelers; just like those on motor vehicles, only smaller.

The revenue would help pay for the cycling infrastructure and maintenance. It would also make a renegade minority of cyclists more accountable for their behaviour.


  1. Thank you for devoting such time and creative murk to this screed.

  2. Today I am writing to inform you of how much I enjoyed your August 2016 column regarding Toronto’s bicyclists. I wholeheartedly agree with you.

    Toronto’s cyclist’s want it all at no expense to them. They ride dangerously everywhere from our pedestrian only (supposedly) sidewalks, to going the wrong way on one way street, running every stop sign and running red lights except at 4 way intersections where they stop for fear of THEIR life and limb. At three way red light intersections such as Adelaide Street West and Sheppard Street (near First Canadian Place) they run that red light all the time. I guess they feel they won’t get hit because there is no “cross traffic” but as for the many pedestrians in that area, well, that is tough. Get out of my way.

    They want (no demand) all pedestrians and motorists to obey all the traffic laws, but as for them, well, to a cyclist being capable of keeping one’s balance on their two wheel bikes is all they need to know.
    They should be licensed!!! If they hit me or you, no doubt, they will simply ride away. I’d probably be given the middle finger salute.

    One of the reasons myself and others do not visit our waterfront is because of the bike lanes on Queen’s Quay. They are not used for casual bike riding, it is a race track. Just look at the biker’s facial expression. Tense and get out of my way. And I see no authorities anywhere. We are all on our own… pathetic.

    As for traffic signal coordination, now there is a laugh. We live on Jarvis Street, a major downtown street, and no matter which direction you go, the traffic lights are continually turning red ahead… Incredible! What happened to that election promise? Oh, yah, it was an “election promise,” I have my answer.

    Don Ruttan

  3. It’s obvious that Frank Touby doesn’t like cyclists. Channeling the late Rob Ford, Mr. Touby complains of ” anarchic cyclists” behaving badly on the roads and bike lanes.

    Even more Rob-like, he rants about “ridiculous” streetcars that hold up traffic, causing misery for drivers. But the worst crime apparently is new bicycling infrastructure that takes space from cars and isn’t being paid for by cyclists. They are getting a “free ride” while Toronto taxpayers foot the bill.
    Deep breath. If you live in Toronto—as cyclists do—you pay taxes. Taxes go to many things, including pot hole repairs and bike lanes. Since they live here, cyclists are helping to pay for the things Touby says they are not.

    I don’t think even the late Rob claimed that cyclists weren’t helping pay for the roads; he just wanted them off them. So hats off to Touby for out-Fording Ford- by making a Trump-like claim.

    Geoff. Rytell, Carlton St.

  4. If licensing creates good behaviour, you have to explain to me the dangerous cars hurtling all over the city not signalling their turns, cutting off pedestrians in crosswalks – and well, killing hundreds.

    People on bicycles allow better use of the road infrastructure. Co-existence poses difficulty for many reasons.

    Chief among which is the vast entitlement people driving cars feel to ‘their’ roads.

    Pal, I pay for your roads with my property taxes. I am a person who cycle-commutes. I use a lot less of the road, don’t tear it down with my multi-ton dumpster on wheels, and certainly don’t need all the expensive medians, guardrails and ridiculous signage telling me what to do / don’t do / when.

    Since I incur less cost – I await my tax refund cheque.

    Cars behaving badly are the primary reason people don’t cycle. That we have to create separate lanes is more a testimony to ‘low-compence drivers are our biggest problem’ (a quote from a Toronto Police officer)

    If our billion-dollar police force would enforce the existing laws – I think you would find the MINORITY of people cycling who merely irritate you would decline in the face of fewer people who cycle being actually injured and killed by your tribe.

    Because survival makes people do things they might not do if they felt there was a place for them.

  5. Driver’s licensing fees do not contribute to the cost of your streets. If anything those fees only make the management and administration of licensing revenue neutral. Do you think your insurance pays for your streets? Obviously, it doesn’t. Do you think parking fees pay for your streets? They don’t. You might logically think the tax you pay on fuel pays for your streets. It doesn’t. Road budgets come out of the larger pot of all of your taxes. So when you pay your property tax, rent (which includes the landlord’s property taxes), income tax or any HST, you’re paying for your streets. Even the kid buying a candy bar from her allowance is paying for your streets. If you did not know any of this about your streets, then I am embarrassed for your ignorance.

    I say “your” streets because you seem to be mistaken in believing the streets of Toronto belong to you, a single driver in a single car. They do not. Streets existed long before the automobile and even today our streets are a shared resource for private, personal, commercial traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws and even horses. A recent statistic has revealed of everyone traveling in the downtown core, 75% of people are moving by transit, walking, or cycling while only 25% are driving. A survey in New York City found that some 30% of people in their cars in the downtown were actually just looking for parking. Extrapolating to the Toronto statistic just noted, that would mean only about 17% of people driving in the core are really going anywhere, on your streets. By your logic that means 75% of people living and moving in the core are paying for 17% who take up an inordinate amount of room, cause noise, congestion and pollution but they are your streets after all because you pay for them. Except clearly, you don’t. The people really getting screwed here aren’t the pedestrians who walk across streets or the cyclists who take up so much room but the people on the TTC. Riders pay for about 85% of the cost of the TTC, not to mention their taxes also pay for the streets drivers, pedestrians and cyclists enjoy.

    Knowing this, it is absurd to say that drivers pay for Toronto streets. Everyone pays for Toronto’s roadways, so it makes no sense to say drivers pay for bike lanes. In fact, the truth is transit riders, pedestrians and cyclists are paying for roadways that do not favour them. In fact, it would be more honest to say all Toronto residents are subsidizing the cost of roads for that 17% of people driving in the core. Given that Toronto has over 5000 Km of roadways but less than 100 Km of bike lanes the imbalance becomes even more apparent. It’s easy to see your confusion about bike lanes not being used. That’s simply optics. Cyclists do not take much room at all. When I commute via Sherbourne and Queens Quay I am joined by thousands of others. Traffic counts on Queens Quay, Richmond-Adelaide, Harbord and Bloor Streets have counted thousands of trips made by cyclists daily. When I’m at a stop light at King and Sherbourne I may count as many as a dozen cyclists at the intersection, a single street car, dozens of pedestrians and maybe 10 cars. But of all of those modes, which takes the most space on the roadway? The car. How many people are using each car? Typically one. Yet the bike lane looks empty. Whenever someone uses this red herring argument I look out on the vastness of streets around me and see empty roadways everywhere but instead of planting wheat or soya beans or trees, we’ve paved them in case a car comes by. The only roadway in Toronto that is always full of cars is the Gardiner Expressway. That’s okay though because cyclists and pedestrians are not allowed on that road. But wait, at a cost of over a billion dollars for the current East Gardiner reconstruction plan, I’m paying for a roadway I’m not even allowed on? That doesn’t sound fair.

    Let’s not let fairness taint this discussion. Let’s talk about safety. I don’t ever recall a pedestrian or cyclist running into a car and killing the driver. It happens far too often the other way around though. That’s because the likelihood of a car weighing 1000 Kg made of steel, plastic, glass and rubber moving faster than 30 Km killing someone is really high. Thus, we have to ensure people who operate such vehicles know how to avoid bumping into people who are not in protective bubbles of steel, glass, plastic and rubber. You don’t even to have to be on the street to get hit by a car. Three incidents this year in Toronto have involved cars accelerating off the road and onto the sidewalk or even into a building. Imagine getting killed by a car when you were in a dance studio. People walking or riding a bicycle find it difficult to smash through windows and walls to collide with occupants inside.

    I’ve lived in Toronto for almost two decades and for last five years I’ve gone without a car. That means I have personally made more space on our streets. By not owning a car, I’ve personally freed up at least 8 parking spots (by some estimates, that’s the average number of spots available for each car). By riding a bike, I’ve given up my seat on the bus, street car or subway for someone unable to ride a bike or drive a car. I ride roughly 2000 Km per year saving approximately 340 kg of carbon dioxide from Toronto’s air. Multiple that by five years and I have personally prevented over a metric ton of CO2 from entering our air. By that metric, I, along with thousands of other cyclists in the city act as the carbon offset for every driver in the city. Some cities and businesses have proposed paying 25¢/Km to cyclists as an incentive to commute by bicycle. At this point, I could argue that not only do drivers get to drive on my streets that I pay for, they should actually pay me to offset their carbon production.

    City staff have looked at licensing cyclists in the past and both city officials and the Toronto Police have determined that at any reasonable rate it would simply cost too much and be too impractical to implement. Of course, if you had bothered to look that up you would have found this.

    As to cyclists who break the law, it is true. Some cyclists are terrible offenders of going through red lights, riding on sidewalks or failing to signal. To be honest, once or twice I’ve seen pedestrians crossing mid-block and every morning at every intersection I see drivers going through red lights, not signalling when they turn, making illegal u-turns and turning without stopping at stop signs. I’m sorry if I ring my bell to let you know I’m there. I’m surprised you would have even heard it. Did it startle you? I hope it did. That’s the point of a bell, which I am legally obliged to have on my bike (see, there are laws cyclists have to follow that don’t require licensing). Sometimes (well, a lot of times actually) drivers use their horns to announce their presence and displeasure too and the average 90 Db car horn is a lot louder and more intimidating than an irritating and apparently righteous-sounding bicycle bell. If you’d prefer I will equip my bicycle with a car horn, which I assume is more to your liking.

    Now, if you like the streets that you drive on, and it sounds like you do, you can thank pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, other drivers and even mounted police officers who all pay for those streets. By the way, if you like paved roads you can thank cyclists for that too. You see, bicycles have been around longer than cars and the “Good Roads Movement” of the 1870s was advocated by, you’re not going to like this, bicyclists. So the next time you’re enjoying driving, thank a cyclist and don’t forget to thank that little girl buying a candy bar because we all paid for our roads that you drive on.
    Peter Rogers ‏@rowdyman