This year, while on a bike, I’ve been yelled at by drivers more than any other year I can remember. I find it odd because I’m a more courteous and respectful rider than I was in the past. I ride slower, I signal my intentions more often, I don’t fly through stop signs, and I try to be less intimidating to pedestrians, drivers and other cyclists. I’m far from being a perfectly safe and respectful cyclist, but I’m slowly getting there.
On four occasions this year a driver has angrily “explained” to me that he (it’s always a guy) has a right to the road because he pays for it, whereas I don’t have a right to be taking up road space because I don’t pay. It’s hard to have an intelligent conversation in traffic on Roy Street or The Boulevard during rush hour and so my usual response is to call the driver a complete moron and to continue biking. What follows in this post is a more researched and intelligent argument to counter the claim that drivers have an exclusive right to the road because they pay for it.
Revenue from Drivers for Roads and Public Transit
If a driver owns his/her car, he/she pays a yearly registration fee to the SAAQ. For a typical passenger vehicle, Montrealers pay $315.15. Of that amount, $240.15 goes towards the insurance premium and the registration fee. Only $75 of the total is a contribution to the public transit network. None of the registration fee goes towards road maintenance.
The gasoline tax in Quebec generates a significant amount of money for road work. Section C2.1 of the 2012-2013 Quebec budget outlines the revenue generated from the additional taxes levied on fuel and tobacco. In 2011-2012, a 17.2¢ per liter tax of gasoline generated $1.97 billion for roadwork and public transit and a separate 3¢ per liter tax in the Montreal region generated $95 million for the AMT. Between the two taxes, almost $2.1 billion was generated for road work and public transit.
Cost of Maintaining Roads
The City of Montreal will spend 4.7% of its $4.7 billion 2012 budget on the road network. That amounts to roughly $220 million.
The MTQ budget is broken up into parts. From its annual budget, the MTQ will spend $752 million in 2012-2013 on transportation and $80 million in that same year on administration costs, totaling $832 million. However, this amount doesn’t include the annual investment that the province contributes to the Quebec Infrastructure Plan (A plan that is scheduled to run from 2011 – 2016). Section C4.1 of the 2012-2013 Quebec budget outlines that in 2012-2013 alone, the province is infusing $3.4 billion into the road network.
For simplicity sake, I will not include the Federal Government’s contribution to the Quebec portion of Trans Canada Highway or to Quebec, federal bridges like the Champlain Bridge. The federal contribution to road work is a small amount compared to the provincial and municipal expenditures on the road network, however, expect the amount to climb significantly when the Champlain Bridge is replaced.
Summing it all up
Quebecers contribute about $200 million to public transport in car registration fees and another $2.1 billion to roads and transit in gasoline taxes. That totals about $2.3 billion. On the other hand, the Province of Quebec and the City of Montreal together will spend $4.45 billion on road work in 2012 (note that I’m not including the road network budgets for all other municipalities in Quebec which likely contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to road work every year). The money generated by drivers falls well over $2 billion short of the cost of maintaining bridges, tunnels, highways and public roads.
What I’m getting at is this: driving is heavily subsidized! It is not like a gym membership where your fees cover the entire operating cost of the facility. Just like public transportation, drivers benefit from external funding – our tax dollars. Income tax. Sales tax. Municipal property taxes. It’s our tax dollars that pay for the building and maintaining the road network. So whether you own a car or not, you are paying for the road.
The taxes I pay should entitle me to a four- or five-foot sliver of road when getting around by bike.