I have a Ford Escape—non-hybrid. I’ve toyed with getting rid of it, but with a 1- year-old son requiring trips to the doctor and daycare, all in a child-safety seat, a carless existence is still a few years away. Still, in an effort to keep my gas guzzling and emissions to a minimum when the bambino isn’t around, I recently decided to resurrect an old motor scooter from my parents’ garage in Michigan.
Due to my younger brother’s penchant for agro-scooter riding, popping wheelies and crash-landing when he was a 16-year-old punk, these days it’s a sorry-looking thing featuring cracked body panels and a kickstand held up by a bungee cord during operation. Also, riding on a scooter as a stocky adult makes me feels oddly like the Incredible Hulk riding on top of a Matchbox car.
But the scooter’s still a much more efficient machine than my Escape. Unfortunately, getting it street legal in the nanny state of Chicago means fording lots of bureaucracy. I knew that I’d need to hit the Secretary of State to secure a license and a title, but then I found out I also needed a city motorcycle tag.
While I believe the use of Chicago streets is a public right, and I don’t understand why the city can’t seem to maintain them solely from their bloated tax base and other greedy fee-based revenue-collection programs (red-light cameras, meter-maid ticket recon), I’m not totally opposed to the vehicle sticker program. While the city surely has no green motivations, I understand that by compelling Chicagoans to plunk down an annual $75-$120 for the right to operate their car might act as a deterrent to some folks or, at the very least, it subsidizes more repair and cleaning of our streets.
What I don’t understand is why the city also taxes folks who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint? You’d think the city would love it if everyone shifted to scooters and motorcycles. It might open up the parking situation, reduce pollution and relieve the gas crunch. But, alas, the city wants you to fork over $45 for that right, more than half the cost of a car sticker for a vehicle at most a third of the size. The way I see it, the city should consider giving me a tax break, not charging me for my efforts.
I know there are some bicyclists who are probably thinking, would you like some cheese with that whine? But, you know what, you’re next. The vehicle sticker program has its origins in an 1891 campaign idea of Mayor Carter Harrison. Back then there were a lot more bikes and horse-drawn carriages, and those bikes were subject to a wheel tax by 1907. The program was dropped as cars became more popular and lucrative, but with the current economic downturn and continued budget shortfalls, the city, and the county (in February they almost added a $40 fee on top of the Chicago vehicle sticker fee for all Cook County residents) are always looking for creative means of generating cash. With millions of bikes in the city, it’s only a matter of time before somebody spies another opportunity. (Michael Nagrant)