Thursday 5 December 2013

What if VED really was Road Tax?

VED isn't a road tax. No, really, it isn't. I'm not even getting in to that here.

But lets suppose for a moment (as I did on twitter yesterday, conveniently storified by a very nice person) we're in a parallel dimension where VED really does pay for the roads. And that its considered fair and reasonable that people pay proportionally for the wear and tear their vehicles inflict thereon. 

How much should cyclists pay? 

We can do a few back of an envelope calculations to get how much we'd be expected to pay into context. 

Lets begin by looking at the relative damage we do - usually this is worked out by a fairly simple formula - for each doubling of mass you multiply the harm done by 16. 

If a cyclist weighs on average 75kg (thats inbetween average woman and average man), we can get to a round-ish number by saying the average bicycle could be about 15kg. So we're putting 90kg worth of damage down on the roads. Thats very likely so low that other than the physical surface atoms of the paving, we're not going to be reaching the kind of load that reaches an activation energy to cause any damage at all, but we'll stick with it for now.

Depending where you are in the world cars tend to be different masses, but a workable average is about 1500kg. Multiplying up, 90kg x2 is 180kg, then 360kg, 720kg, 1440kg... We've got to double the mass 4x to get an equivalence.

Someone recently told me he'd paid £200 VED, so lets say thats average. Sounds about average. If the average car costs you that much, we divide by 16, 4 times, to get to £0.003.  

But lets flip it around. Often we hear people saying they'd like cyclists to pay SOMETHING towards the roads. So shall we say a tenner? Proportionally you'd pay £655,360 for a car.

I found a stat at the RAC saying there are 34.5 million motorised vehicles on the roads, and from the utterly reliable source of twitter I've seen a figure of about £10 billion per years on road maintenance in the UK. Do the maths and thats about £290 per person.

Back calculate from that and, based on road damage alone (ignoring the fact that cyclists are probably not damaging at all), and the 3 million (according to CTC) regular cyclists in the UK would pay 0.4p per person, per year. Or all together we'd be paying £12,000. 

There are two simple conclusions to draw here. Firstly its absurd to suggest that cyclists should pay 'road tax'. It transpires that its even more aburd if you do the maths. And, secondly, just dealing with road wear and tear alone, VED ain't high enough. Want cyclists to pay 'road tax'? Then start paying a fair share for your car!


  1. Absolutely right! Even if you think it Ok to put a monetary value on adverse effects of motoring (deaths from noxious emissions, loss of children's independent mobility, loss of local environment, climate change, ill health from not doing active travel etc. etc.) the plain fact is that motorists do not pay anything like enough.

    Do see the Road Danger Reduction Forum website "Costs of Motoring" posts .
    for more.

    On top of this the Chancellor has just given motorists another £500 million p.a. (what cycling needs for dedicated financial support at least) in the winter statement.

    Dr Robert Davis, Chair, RDRF

  2. Works on pressure, not mass. You also ignore cost of dedicated bike infra. Andrew Lockley

    1. I suppose you could divide the total mass of the cyclist + bike by 2, and the car by 4 (2 points of contact with the road as opposed to 4), but we're talking about many orders of magnitude difference in damage here - its not relevant. At all.

      And no, I don't talk about the cost of 'dedicated bike infra.' because I don't talk about the cost of ANY infrastructure - the £10bn figure is purely road maintenance, not construction, and the maintenance cost for cycling infrastructure due to the damage caused by cyclists is, as demonstrated, next to nothing. I don't talk about dedicated motor vehicle infrastructure either (motorways and to all intents and purposes most of the dualled A-roads that exclude cycling) - but we can add those in if you like.

      When you're looking at differences in cost/damage of many orders of magnitude (here its around 5 orders!) you really don't need to look at the minutiae.

  3. Maintained bike infra costs money, eg cycle paths need to be swept, checked, patrolled, etc. You can't ignore that. PS please unblock me on Twitter. It's a bit petulant.

    1. Haven't included the cost of sweeping or patrolling other roads so I've not included it specifically for cycle infrastructure. In that regard the comparison is entirely like for like. Even if I DID include it, we're looking at a differential in cost of what, 5 orders of magnitude? Cars don't just do a bit more damage to roads, we're talking about multipliers of up to a hundred thousand times.

      Petulant? I reserve the right to block who I want on twitter, whether they view it as petulant or not. I may unblock you - but I block pretty much anyone who irritates me.

    2. In terms of pavement design we only consider commercial vehicles as causing damage and use a value called MSAs (million standard axles). Essentially, if we built roads to the same standards, but then banned HGVs/LGVs from using them, they would barely be damaged by car usage.


  4. 1 car = 10,000 bikes, 1 HGV = 10,000 cars. More or less.

    1. We can do the maths :)

      Seems that HGV are 12000kg or more. Cars are about 1500kg. You double that a nice, convenient 3 times to get to 12000kg... So multiply by 16 four times and you get to nearer 4,000 cars worth of damage. Give or take - remember though that there are so many more wheels, so much wider, spreading the weight... But then again the lorry can be much heavier too!

      Bottom line here is, I think, that lorries and cars are all big and heavy enough to do damage. Bikes basically aren't.

    2. And for comparison, cyclist 90kg, car 1500kg, then the car isn't doing 10 000 times more damage, its doing about 65 000 times more damage. The differential between a car and a bike is much greater than between an HGV and a car.

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