Mass Wheelage

I spend too much time looking at the big picture, apparently, for I just saw in my local newspaper that Washington County has become the third Minnesota county to re-institute a wheelage tax on motorized vehicles. This trend undoubtedly will bring smiles to the faces of self-confessed bike bigots everywhere…

The $5 increase per vehicle isn’t a big deal to most people, though I doubt the rates will stay that low for too long. Give a legislator a new way to extract revenue from people and they’ll eventually start jacking prices up. The current bill allows counties to charge up to $20 per vehicle in taxes… any bets how long that will last?

Just in case people think I’m complaining, I actually see the passage of wheelage taxes as a good thing. The only reason everyone has gladly let government charge them for the sprawling road network is because having access to a car and ample, affordable fuel was available to everyone from minimum-wage earners all the way up to CEO’s, and has been seen for several generations as an American birthright. Rising fuel costs, declining availability and a depressed economy will likely mean that driving will be something only a certain,dwindling percentage of people will be able to do regularly, and why shouldn’t they be expected to shoulder more of the burden of maintaining their roads?

Current laws exclude human-powered vehicles (i.e. bikes) from the tax. Sooner or later some tax bureaucrat or politician will figure out that cyclists use the roads too. How long before yearly bike licenses will become mandatory? This too can be both a good and bad thing, I think. Yes, we’ll have to feed the tapeworm every year, but hopefully that will also mean we can have more say in terms of setting up bike-friendly road networks, or perhaps even more bike-only paths. The costs of putting in bike paths has got to be less than normal roadways or highways. I personally would gladly pay to get more bike-only routes going between the suburbs.


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