The Chicago Tribune, perhaps trolling for hits, posted a short video interview today of columnist John Kass proposing a new bike tolling scheme using what he calls a “Rahm-pass” that would be mounted to the handlebars of every bike in the city. Charges would be levied anytime a rider passes through a designated intersection.
It’s rather hard to determine whether Mr. Kass is serious or whether this is just a funny joke, partly because the video lacks context and partly because the scheme itself is so harebrained it’s hard to believe a serious civic commentator would sincerely propose such a thing.
It takes impressive mental gymnastics to equally legitimize and marginalize an entire class of people all in the same breath. I’m not sure whether to be flattered that Kass considers bikes a mode of transportation serious enough to start considering ways to make them pay their own way, or disgusted at his obvious disdain for the non-motorized.
But enough about him; what of his proposal? Despite his condescending tone, he poses two legitimate questions: are bicyclists getting a free ride? and if they are, should they start paying into the system, too? Leaving aside the logistical nightmare of enforcement, let’s take this a step further: if bikes ought to start paying for their use of road space, shouldn’t we start charging pedestrians, as well? They do use those pesky crosswalks, after all. Maybe we could give everyone ankle bracelets and then charge them every time they cross the road.
The fundamental assumption behind Kass’ plan is that everyone should pay for their use of public facilities. While Kass doesn’t say much about cars, his tone leads me to believe he is one of those persecuted motorists being forced to subsidize everyone else who uses the road. As this blog and others have asserted, it is actually motorists who benefit disproportionately from transportation spending, not bicyclists. He mentions the gas tax: does he actually know how much of our road expenditures are actually paid for by the gas tax? I suspect not, since a true user-pays system would likely result in much higher taxes for vehicles.
But what about the tollways crisscrossing Chicagoland, Kass might ask? Surely those motorists are paying their own way! True, the tollway is a more “fair” model for road funding, but the cars are also getting something for their money. They don’t pay to drive on local roads; they are paying for the privilege to drive at high speed on a network of superhighways without the disturbance of bikes or pedestrians to gum up the works.
Nonetheless, fair is fair. I’ll support a toll on bikes if the city will provide a well-connected network of bike superhighways. First on my list? Lincoln/Wells from Western into the loop. No cars. No potholes. I’d pay money for a commute like that.