Everything You Need to Know About Oregon’s New Bike Tax

As fields of tulips start to blossom and pollen begins to float through spring breezes, everybody in the Pacific Northwest is looking for a way to soak in some extra vitamin D. One way many business people are catching rays is through bicycle commuting. Oregon has become a pedal-crazed state, flourishing with Portland, Eugene, and Salem all ranking in the top 50 best bike cities in the nation as of September 2016. Now, competing with bikeways in places like Chicago and Minneapolis, Oregon is looking for a way to ramp up their infrastructure and support their emission-free civilians. In fact, just in Portland alone, between 2013 and 2014, the number of bike commuters jumped by 27 percent, according to US Census data.

In May of this year, the state proposed an $8 billion spending package on transportation. This money would go toward building and maintaining off-street bike paths. On Tuesday, June 6, 2017, the Senate was set to deliberate this transportation bill. On this same Tuesday, The Street Trust hosted a ride from Portland to Salem to protest, where 11 activists sped to the state capitol and each gave a two-minute testimony directed against this new bike tax.

Their position of frustration echoed groups all over Oregon, mainly concern for smaller and more independent bike shops. Because the tax is only effective for bicycles over $500, it will be more of a tax on these mom and pop businesses than the consumers. Local retailers will now be forced to compete with big box brands sold in department stores, as well as requiring administrative costs for the sales tax, because Oregon has no sales tax of any kind (until now). This bill is also dependent on human-powered or electrical-powered bikes, so it requires separate tax receipt filing, for the new minimum of 5 years.

However, even after crusading to the state capital, the transportation bill was passed on June 6 in the House and Senate.

So beginning January 1, 2018, Oregon will levy a $15 excise tax on top of new bicycles with wheels that have 26-inch diameter wheels or larger, becoming the first and only state with any sort of bicycle tax. It will be on bikes that cost $500 or more. As Jenn Dice of PeopleForBikes told Bicycling.com, the $15 is really a better percentage, being one flat rate. However, “we certainly didn’t want them going after bicycles,” she said, “and we think it’s a bad idea.”

Will this tax bring revenue in to support more bike lanes, off-street bikeways, and the enforcement of traffic laws pertaining to bicycles? And can we trust our lawmakers to follow through? Or will it put folks out of business, the tax requirements targeting independent retailers?

Some say this could help the public feel as though bike commuters pay their share. But will the money for all this proposed infrastructure outweigh the new disincentive for potential bike buyers?

Is this all just plain silly?

As Johnathan Maus said on Bikeportland.org, “time will tell, I suppose.”