Bike tax controversy in Amsterdam

Published on 28 July 2014 by Hilary Staples

Amsterdam businesses want to introduce a tax on bikes to finance much needed new bike parking facilities in the city centre. This proposal hasn't gone down too well with cyclists. So what's it all about and how realistic are the plans?
Bike tax to be introduced in Amsterdam to pay new bike parking facilities? Photo © Holland-Cycling.com

Bike tax to be introduced in Amsterdam to pay new bike parking facilities? Photo © Holland-Cycling.com

Like cities all over the world, cities in Holland have had to deal with the problems of traffic congestion, pollution and overfull car parks. Over the years cars have been discouraged to enter the busy centres and the use of bikes was stimulated as a healthy, environmentally friendly and - above all - cheaper and more convenient alternative. The Dutch did themselves proud as a cycling nation and took to their bikes en masse. Nowadays you may even get stuck in a bicycle traffic jam during rush hour!

New bicycle infrastructure is needed to cater for the growing number of cyclists, but this takes some time. Until the right infrastructure has been put in place, city centres will have to struggle with bikes parked all over the place as there is a shortage of bike parking spaces. In Amsterdam alone, tens of thousands of new bike parking spaces are needed.

Chip

Amsterdam City, an organisation that represents businesses in Amsterdam, has proposed that cyclists must pay bicycle tax in order to finance the much needed new parking facilities in the centre of Amsterdam. "It's strange that car drivers do have to pay for public infrastructure and cyclists don't", says Willem Koster, the chairman of Amsterdam City in an interview in Metro.

All bikes are to get a chip so their owners can be identified. Koster: "Before WWII citizens had to buy a number plate for their bike, so the government knew whether you had paid your bike tax." He believes that the chip would not only make it possible to collect the taxes, it would also be a good way of tracking down owners of abandoned bikes which clutter the streets and have to be removed - costing the public money.

Costs

How would it work? Is the bike tax a council tax, only to apply to bike owners in Amsterdam or should it apply to all Dutch cyclists? Will you have to pay taxes when you bring your bike over to Amsterdam from abroad? Koster doesn't say anything about the practicalities - or impracticalities - of imposing a tax on bikes in Amsterdam.

"We are researching how it can be carried out in a satisfactory manner. Currently there are only ideas and it will take some time to investigate this." And how high is the bike tax to be? "In future cyclists won't have to pay everything. What we want is that they contribute towards part of the costs."

Fair

Is it fair that car drivers pay for public infrastructure and cyclists don't? Koster conveniently seems to forget that the whole point why car drivers have to pay a lot for driving and parking in our cities is to discourage them. So it's not surprising that many cyclists see a bike tax as a punishment for good behaviour. "First all cars had to be banned from the city. Now to get anywhere, we have to go by bike. Soon all Amsterdammers will be expected to walk." What's next, cyclists wonder: a pedestrian tax, an oxygen tax, a gate around the city and admission fees?

Is it correct to suppose that cyclists don't pay for public infrastructure? Like all Dutch citizens, cyclists pay income tax and local taxes. These sources of income are used to cover all kinds of costs, including public infrastructure. Isn't that enough? The costs of implementing the tax might well be greater than the benefits. And as one cyclist pointed out: "Amenities for cyclists are relatively inexpensive if you look at the amount of space they take up, etc. For the costs of one parking place, one parking meter and supplying parking licenses, numerous amenities for cyclists could be financed."

Boycott

What surprises people most is that the proposal to introduce bike tax comes from an organisation representing Amsterdam businesses. If people don't cycle into the city anymore, surely it will affect their business. Do they still want customers? "They want the trade, so they should pay themselves."

Many cyclists are really angry as they feel they pay more than enough taxes already. And if bike taxes are introduced, how likely is it that it will be used for the benefit of cyclists? "If this nonsense is carried out, just boycott the city centre."

Big Brother

Is the chip for the bike an entirely bad idea? A few cyclists hope it might help in the prevention of bike theft which is a huge problem in Holland. Or will you be paying the taxes, while the thief is happily riding around on your bike?

Privacy is also considered an issue. "Apart from the advantages of the anti-theft chip enabling you to trace your bike, it will also connect you to various digital systems and well intended bicycle service points or services that will share the information with businesses and the government. One press on a button and they know whether I own a bike, what I use it for, how, where and/or why." Cyclists worry that Big Brother will be watching them on their bike.

Is it likely that Amsterdam will actually impose a tax on bikes in the near future? It's hard to say. Clearly they won't be getting much support from cyclists and as cyclists make out the majority of the Dutch population, the chances are small - we hope. We'll keep you posted.

 
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