Paid for out of rates and general taxation - not fuel tax
Paid for out of rates and general taxation – not fuel tax

Following on from the tragic death of a cyclist in Auckland, we have seen the normal, ill-informed vitriol that cyclists don’t belong on the road as they don’t pay for it. Hopefully most of you know that roads (as opposed to motorways) are paid for in NZ out of rates and general taxation, so this argument actually has no factual basis. In addition, the main cost for local roads is in maintenance and cycles cause very little or no damage to roads (most damage is actually caused by trucks, BTW).

This article from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute addresses some arguments often made by cycling critics against investing in cycling infrastructure. Todd Litman calls these arguments myths or more charitably, half truths.

One of the most commonly raised arguments/myths is that cyclists do not pay for roads while motorists do. This article reveals that in the United States the vast majority of states do not pay for the vast majority of roading costs through user fees (direct taxes and tolls).  The situation in NZ is slightly different as can be seen in this blog post on the Cycling in Christchurch blog but the basic principle holds true – local roads are mostly paid for out of general taxation and rates which we all pay.

Coming hopefully to Chch - intersections that are safe for all users
Coming hopefully to Chch – intersections that are safe for all users

As the Dutch know (but apparently not NZ), humans make mistakes, so when they do the roading system should follow the Dutch model and be designed so mistakes are not fatal. Right now staying alive on our roads, whether as a cyclist, pedestrian, car driver or truck driver, depends on no-one making a mistake – not a great assumption when humans are involved. For cyclists, this means separated cycleways.

It may also mean that trucks such as ran over Jane Bishop and the cyclist on Tuesday, need to be fitted with under-run protection (deflection devices which make it much less likely for a cyclist or pedestrian hitting / beng hit by a truck to actually go under the wheels). They are not mandatory in New Zealand, even though they are a rather simple change.

It would be really nice to see a debate in NZ that is informed and fact driven. Where the debate goes is a matter for democracy to sort out but it should at least occur in an environment where the facts are known and understood by opponents as well as advocates.

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10 responses to “Road funding and other myths that hold back active modes

  1. I’ve had many a discussion with recently graduated engineers who work for for consultants/design firms that NZTA/AT employ, and even they espouse the myth that cyclists don’t pay their way. It suggests a very endemic problem in NZ and one where clearly educational institutes like Auckland University are failing miserably. They also hold the blame for the lopsided and ill informed debates that occur in NZ, along with the absolutely appalling road designs that prevail.

    1. Also, how many times do pedestrians get accused of being parasites?

      They pay as much or as little as cyclists, but if a pedestrian is killed, the chorus in the comments of the Herald doesn’t ring out with “Oh well, asking for better safety are they – should wear license plates and pay their way first!

      1. I reckon motorists don;t see pedestrians as parasites because motorists typically walk places too so are occasionally pedestrians. Also, pedestrians are on the footpath which is not seen as owned or paid for by motorists.

        Woe betide the poor pedestrian who wanders out on to the road…

        1. Which highlights the REAL issue behind it all. Too few Aucklanders are occasional cyclists. If they were, they wouldn’t see cyclists as “invasive species”.

          Chicken and egg situation, but at least it can work both ways (more cyclists = improving cyclist conditions).

    2. Here’s a brief summary of the funding situation in Auckland, with links to the supporting evidence, which may come in useful in your discussions with these ill-informed engineers:

      Motorists pay Motor Vehicle Registration Fees, but these only provide 4% of the funding for transport in Auckland (ref 1). Rates – which are paid by cyclists – provide nearly one third of all funding (ref 1). Cyclists do pay their way.

      It is also true that the majority (~52%) of road construction costs are actually spent on maintenance and renewals to repair worn out roads (ref 2). The damage to roads from vehicles is roughly proportional to the weight on each wheel to the fourth power. In other words, a 2 tonne car typically causes about 10,000 times more damage to a road than a 100 kg bike and rider , while a 30 tonne 18-wheeler truck might do more than 1 million times the damage (ref 3). On this basis it is logical that heavy vehicles and cars should pay significantly more than cycles.

      1 – Auckland Council Website alternative funding discussion (

      2 – NZTA Revenue and investment flows (

      3 – Pavement Interactive for axle load calculations (

  2. Need we also mention all of the subsidies from active/public transport users to motorists that free parking (at supermarkets, big box stores, etc) represents?

  3. Hi @BenL – thanks for your post here, and also @LennyBoy of the Cycling in Christchurch blog. You gave me the inspiration to write a letter to the Herald on the topic (pretty much the same as my post above) clarifying the funding situation in Auckland.

    1. David, yes I have exchanged a bit of correspondence about this with David H (of View from the Cycle Path). He is quite scathing about the proposed Chch design.

      However, one thing he said is that the design is not good as the cyclist wouldnt be able to see the traffic light. But David must have forgotten (as he grew up in Auckland) that NZ junctions have lights on both sides of the intersection, not just the closest side like in Europe (and something I never understood in Europe which makes driving more difficult).

      However, that is one minor point and otherwise I actually think his criticism is valid and important to take on board.

      In saying that, there is no doubt that the proposed Chch intersection would be magnitudes better than anything we have now. And if that type of intersection was installed on The Strand, John Tangiia would be alive right now along with many other cyclists.

      As I pointed out to David H, NZ trying to catch the Netherlands in cycling is like them trying to catch up NZ in Rugby. It would be a long hard slog to get there and will take a big change in attitude. However there is nothing inately special about NZers that makes us good at Rugby and the same with the Dutch and cycling. It is all culture and history, things that can be shifted.

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