Bike Courier Sideswiped by Car-Biased Tax Law

Deductions allowed for luncheon martinis but not foodfor fuel

Now Magazine, August 7, 1997

by Christina Varga

As a bike and foot courier for 15 years, Alan Wayne Scott estimateshe has done the equivalent of circling the Earth five times.

But judge Donald H. Christie of the Canadian Tax Court ruled on July29 that Scott cannot deduct from his income tax any of the extra food anddrink it takes to fuel the estimated 200,000 kilometres he has pedalledin his job.

The ruling in an almost empty downtown courtroom was the latest stepin what has been a 15-year legal odyssey for Scott.

During that time, he has been arguing that itís unfair to allow peopleto deduct gas when dnving on businees, but not the extra food he says ittakes to do his business by bike.

He has been supported by a coalition of couriers in his quest and atroika of city counciilors to boot.

"Itís ironic this decision came on the day a North American studypinpointed Ontario as the third- largest polluter in North America,"says Scott, looking a tad uncomfortable in the dark suit heís donned inplace of his regular riding gear today in court. By allowing fuel deductionsfor cars, they are tacitly encouraging the use of cars, which foul up theatmosphere."

Scott, a tall, bald figurewith black-rimmed glasses and a ready smile,is dissappointed he won't be able to appeal Christie's decision. He mentionsthe broken collar bone and a back injury he's sustained as result of accidentson the job. The streets can be a mean place for couriers.

"We should be taken care of as well as anyone else," he says."I donít have unemployment insurance, benefits or workerís compensation".

Scott calculates he needs 4,300 calories abouttwice the normal amountand $32.50 per day to fuel his body.

But Judge Christie ruled on a section of the Income Tax Act that doesnítallow deductions for normal living expenses, like food and water.

The cost of eating has traditionally been viewed as a personal expense."There are no provisions in the Income Tax Act to deduct personalexpenses", says Bill Bennett, a spokesperson for the federal-financedepartment. The cost of staying alive is covered by the persona1 exemption.

But it seems the Bay Street boys can deduct the martinis they sometimesdown with their business buddies. Business people are allowed to deductthe food and drink they have with clients.

"The court could not ignore the rules because (bike couriers) aremore environmentally friendly," is the take of another finance departmentofficial who didn't want to be identified. But even if someone would wantto accommodate this, it would be anightmare to administer. It would beeasier to raise the cost of gasoline. Keep in mind, though, that gas ismore heavily taxed than groceries."

Local city councillors Joe Pantalone, Jack Layton and Mario Silva wroteletters in support of Scott's efforts, acknowledging the contribution ofbike and foot couriers to reducing traffic congestion and smog in Toronto.

"There are anti-enviromental implications to this decision andit puts bike couriers at a disadvantage," says Pantalone.

But there may be hope yet for Scott.

That's because the city of Toronto recently voted on initiatives toimprove air quality, and one of the recommendations is the formation ofa committee to look at alternatives to fossil fuels.

Priscilla Cranley of the Healthy City office says, "The anti-smogworking group is looking at incentives, both tax, and other, to help cleanup the air."

It turns out Scott has been invited to share his views before the committeemakes its recommendations to the province and the feds.

Since he cannot appeal his ruling, Scott says, he'll be focusing hisefforts on getting out his political message in the meantime.

"I guess I'll just have to change the law," he says.

back to articles

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at