Why cycling has to encounter a Tea Party moment

August 23, 2013

As an informed, intelligent bicycleperson, you probably know that road tax is the common term for Vehicle Excise Duty, and that it is based on emissions. This wasn’t always the case: human-powered cars which the likes of Fred Flintstone and his neighbour Barney Rubble propelled with their lower bodies were once subject to Vehicle Exercise Duty (if you can’t manage a boom-tish at this point, a Hanna-Barbera-esque lick on the bongos will do). But in these more enlightened times, cyclists are exempt. Bicycles don’t produce any emissions, which is why they are not subject to VED.

With laborious regularity, ‘road tax’ is unfairly played as the trump card in criticisms levelled at cyclists (a friend filmed the above clip featuring a driver giving the usual spiel to a rider in the Oval last week) so it was heartening to witness the rare sight of a mainstream news outlet setting out the facts of VED last week. But the BBC’s feature didn’t make an effort to distinguish motorists who referred to VED as road tax – the majority in the reporter’s small, quick poll – from those who also use the term to falsely assert their primacy over cyclists. My instinct is that the latter are, shall we say, a very niche group, despite (or maybe because of) the volume and righteous fury of their objections.

Imagine a drunk trying to take a swing at you in a pub because his beer is taxed and your orange juice isn’t; that, in essence, is the weak logic of the ‘I pay road tax’ brigade. So why, then, does the article go on to claim that road tax, as a notion of paying for roads and establishing who has the greater right to be on them, is “a powerful political idea”? Let the market set the cost of labour – now that’s a powerful political idea. Or decide wages through collective bargaining – that’s a conflicting one. Political ideas motivate, animate, agitate. You can pour billions of pounds into a political idea or watch people take to the streets in protest against one. But ‘road tax’ is not a political idea; it is just a lazy fantasy for those who want change but don’t fancy doing the heavy lifting.

In wider politics, Britain has already had two Tea Party moments recently – first with the BNP, then Ukip – and in both cases the parties exposed their supposed populism for naked hatred and general cluelessness. I think it’s about time cycling came up against a Tea Party. Irascible motorists of the world, unite! Stop hiding behind the non-existent ‘road tax’ argument – if you don’t want me on the road because you think I’m an inconvenience, or there are too many of us, then just say it. And will you discover, to your great surprise, just how unpopular you and your views actually are.

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