Why Doesn’t Oregon Make Cyclists Register Their Bikes and Get a License Plate?

Ask yourself: Is Portland more like Honolulu, or like a bunch of West Coast cities plus Madison?

Pedalpalooza 2021. (Mick Hangland-Skill)

Selling paddleboard permits to fund boating-access improvements seems like a luxury tax on our waterways. If the state needs the cash, why not make cyclists register their bikes and get a license plate? This could help pay for all the bike lanes and green paths. —Lost in a Sea of Fees

I must say, Lost, I’m impressed: Your hypothetical Bicycle Registration Waterway Enrichment Fund has only existed for 30 seconds and you’re already raiding it to pay for unrelated bike path development projects. You should be in politics; you’re a natural.

For those who missed it, the state in 2020 began requiring a waterway access permit ($17 a year or $30 for two years) for operators of any nonmotorized boat longer than 10 feet. This includes rowboats, kayaks and those standup paddleboards that are all the rage lately (I thought the whole point of small boats is that you’re not supposed to stand up in them, but whatever). Revenues are split between the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program and a fund for improvements to boat-launch areas.

As luxury taxes go, it’s not exactly crippling, but it’s true that no levy on paddlecraft is going to raise anything like as much money as a universal bike registration regime could. Why don’t we implement one of those?

This trivia question hints at the answer: Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and Davis, Calif., have all tried mandatory bike licensing, as have Seattle, Houston, Honolulu, Madison, Wis., and our very own Medford. How many of those programs are still in operation?

It’s not zero; Honolulu has managed to make it work. But in every other case, weak enforcement led to minimal participation, administrative costs far outstripped revenue, and everyone from cops to cyclists completely hated it. I’m not saying it’s impossible here, but ask yourself: Is Portland more like Honolulu, or like a bunch of West Coast cities plus Madison?

That said, rest assured that bikes aren’t getting off scot-free on the taxes and fees front. Oregon still has the bicycle excise tax, the $15 surcharge levied on new bikes since 2017. It may be pretty small beer compared to the $238 motorists pay to register a car in Multnomah County, but it leaves boaters who complain about the $15 WAP without a leg to stand (up in a small boat) on.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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