Reach Plc Denies Syncronizing Cyclist-Baiting Postings On 15 Newspaper Facebook Sites

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Car Driving In Cycle Lane

Motorist drives on the two-way cycling lanes on Blackfriars Bridge Road, in London borough of … [+] Southwark, England, 2017. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images Images)

In Pictures via Getty Images

“This is bound to get people talking,” stated a journalist on the Hull Live Facebook site at 6.30am on Friday October 2 including an emoji pointing at a graphic asking “Should cyclists pay road tax and insurance like everyone else on the roads?”

Within hours, several other newspaper-linked Facebook sites had posted similar divisive messages. Divisive because the question, say bicycle advocates, suggests that cyclists don’t pay to use roads but that motorists do. Bicycle advocates add that such messaging is anti-cyclist because “there is no such thing as road tax.” The tax was abolished in the 1930s and U.K. roads are not paid for via taxation on motorists.

The local newspapers behind the Facebook sites are owned by Reach plc, formerly known as Trinity Mirror, and one of the U.K’s largest newspaper groups, publishing 240 local papers as well as nationals including Daily Mirror, Daily Express, and Daily Star.

On Friday afternoon, Leicestershire Live, the Facebook front for the Reach-owned Leicester Mercury newspaper—founded in 1874—used a different graphic to Hull Live but the same question, “Should cyclists pay road tax and insurance like everyone else on the roads?”

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At least 15 other Reach-owned newspapers also posed the same or similar questions on their Facebook sites either on Friday or over the weekend.

Despite the similar messaging and the close timings, Reach Plc denies synchronicity:

“There is no co-ordination or multi-site operation driven by an agenda either by Reach or outside groups,” said Luciano Chelotti, Reach Plc’s communications manager.

“One of Reach’s local social teams created a post on cyclists and road usage,” claimed Chelotti.

“The conversation proved popular and some of our other social media editors followed suit with similar posts.”

The conversations certainly generated heat and light (and clicks). The Leicestershire Live posting stimulated nearly 3,000 comments, many of them disparaging about cyclists. The posting also resulted in 1,300 “likes,” spreading the question around Facebook.

Perhaps showing that negativity is a better accelerant on social media than positivity, a graphic on Somerset Live’s Facebook site invited readers to “post a message for your Nana or Gramps” because “it’s national Grandparents Day”—this received just 11 likes on Facebook and no comments while the question “Should cyclists have to be insured to use the roads?” received 384 likes and generated 707 comments, many of them expressing hatred of cyclists.

Chelotti told me that “road tax” was raised as an issue by Reach-owned newspapers “as a conversation starter to encourage conversation and debate.”

At 6.22pm on Friday October 2 Saturday, the Facebook site for the national Daily Star asked “Do you think cyclists should have to pay tax for using roads?”

“Absolutely,” agreed Colin Varney in the comments. “We spend so much on roads to cover these guys.”

Dianne Goulding agreed: “Maybe if cyclists had to contribute that would give them the rights to have a say,” she wrote, “but they have a bad attitude without payment they have no respect 90% of cyclist maybe if they did contribute they would earn respect [sic].”

“Yes, now that they own half the road,” proffered Sheila Davison, who, sadly, did not show her workings.

“Just get them off the roads altogether,” suggested Julie Blakeman.

Cycle advocate Wolf Simpson of Essex told me via email that he is “sick and tired” of those newspapers which “deliberately fuel hatred against [cyclists].”

He added: “It’s clear from the mass posting of the ‘cyclists should pay road tax’ [graphics] on Facebook that this was a targeted attack against a benign form of transport.”

Call it vehicle tax

In 2013, motoring organization executive Stephen Glaister of the RAC Foundation told the BBC: “Road tax implies you are being taxed to use the roads and the money goes back into the roads— that’s not correct.”

“Road tax” was abolished in 1937 and replaced by Vehicle Excise Duty, or VED. It is now an emissions tax, with some motorists—such as owners of electric cars—not paying any VED at all.

But despite no longer existing, “road tax” remains a potent term, implying that the tax—which, remember, many motorists do not pay—should be lavished only on roads and not, say, hospitals, and that drivers have more right to road space than supposed “freeloaders” such as pedestrians, horse-riders and cyclists.

Frazer-Nash BMW 319/55 of LG Johnson, competing at the MCC Torquay Rally, July 1937

“Road tax” was last paid when you could buy, new from the showroom, this Frazer-Nash BMW, seen here … [+] taking part in the Torquay rally, 1937. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

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Winston Churchill started the process of abolishing “road tax” in the 1920s in the first of his infamous “raids on the road fund.” The Road Fund had been set up in the 1909/10 Finance Act, part of Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget.’

No new roads were ever built using the Road Fund. Much the largest part of its grants (over 90% in all) went towards small scale improvements in road surfaces. The Road Fund was abolished in 1937, and motorists ceased paying directly for road improvements. Or, as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) now puts it: “There has been no direct relationship between vehicle tax and road expenditure since 1937.”

No pay, no say?

Roads are paid for by local and general taxation—that is, council tax and income tax. And anybody who buys anything in the U.K. also helps to pay for roads because VAT contributes to the national coffers. Businesses which pay business rates also contribute.

The only taxation in the U.K. that’s ring-fenced—i.e, raised by one set of users and ostensibly spent on that set of users—is the TV licence fee, which pays for the BBC.

According to the U.K. government “road tax” is described either as “car tax” or “vehicle tax” as it’s a tax on tailpipe CO2 emissions. It’s not now, and never has been, a fee to use roads. If car tax was a fee to use roads, electric cars and low-emissions cars wouldn’t be able to drive on U.K. roads.

All motoring taxes go into the Treasury’s coffers, they don’t pay for roads directly. If taxes did pay directly for amenities, drinkers could say their alcohol taxes should pay for bigger pubs, or childless people could opt out of paying for schools which they clearly won’t ever use.

Despite “road tax” having been abolished 83 years ago it’s still used as a stick to beat cyclists with, claim those often on the receiving end. London-based YouTube user “themitsky” politely stood his ground when the passenger and driver of a Vauxhall Astra decided to use the “road tax” ploy when arguing that he ought to get out of the way of motorists because he was riding a bicycle.

“The car have priority over you because we pay road tax,” said the car’s passenger.

In another incident captured on video, a cyclist was told that because cyclists don’t pay a a non-existent tax, “You have no say on the roads whatsoever.”

With some venom, the passenger added: “No pay, no say.”

It’s these sort of hate-filled sentiments that many in the media inflame—deliberately or innocently—with provocative social media postings asking, wrongly, whether cyclists should pay their way.

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