What Would a Bicycle Licence Program in Toronto Mean?

Photo caption from Flickr: “This bicycle tag is issued to delivery bicycles who deliver the Toronto Star newspaper. This plate which I have had for a long time was issued in the 1960’s or 70’s.”

The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting on September 14, 2009 has everyone and their mother talking about cyclist licensing and helmet laws.

However, there’s one question that needs to be asked, and one that hasn’t been just yet.

What exactly is a bicycle licence or cyclist’s license?

There are differences between the two and we need to clarify these first.

A bicycle licence isn’t a new idea. These have been around for years. The Flickr account of woody1778a has a collection of bicycle licence plates from Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec and elsewhere.

A bicycle licence is simply bicycle registration. Cities like Madison, WI, Davis, CA, St. Lake City, UT and Regina, SK all have bicycle licence programs. These are free in some cases and can cost up to $10. Having a bicycle licence in these cities means you have registered your bicycle for identification in the instance it is recovered after theft. It can also be used to identify the owner of the bicycle if they suffer a serious injury. And it also provides city planners with a count of cyclists (or bicycles really) to use when planning infrastructure. Some of the money collected can go towards funding cycling infrastructure, however at such low costs there is often very little money generated for bike lanes or anything else.

In Toronto, the Toronto Police Service already provides free bicycle registration that is not mandatory, but is highly recommended to aid in the recovery of stolen bicycles. There is no registration number provided, although retaining your bicycle’s serial number is the same as having a unique registration number as this is used for identification.

On the other hand we have a cyclist’s license that would grant the holder permission to use a bicycle.

While my search has certainly not been exhaustive, I have yet to find an example of a cyclist’s license in use anywhere in the world. If you know of any, please let me know in the Biking Toronto Forum.

Motorists, boaters and pilots all require a license to operate their vehicles. Licenses are issued after testing and must be renewed after a certain amount of time with the exception of boaters who simply must pass their licensing test once.

Why then, should a cyclist’s licensing program be started? And do we even need one at all?

Currently, cyclist’s are regulated under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). On a bicycle you’re required to follow all of the rules of the road. Stopping at stop signs and red lights, signaling turns and having appropriate lighting at night are all covered under the HTA and cyclists can be issued fines for these offenses.

However, these charges do not affect the current points system on their driver’s licenses, should they have one. The argument here is that by licensing cyclists, you can track their offenses and possibly even revoke their license as we do with motorists.

In Florida, traffic offenses committed on a bicycle go on their driver’s record and can result in the revoking of a license. Florida is even strict on those too young to have a driver’s license, requiring that they pay fines incurred on a bicycle before they can get their driver’s license.

So then, in Ontario and Toronto cyclists are already regulated. The problem is in enforcement, not regulation. And, enforcement is currently being stepped up, especially in Toronto as thousands of violations are issued each year to cyclists.

Licensing of motorists, boaters and pilots also implies that a certain level of education concerning the rules of operation has been obtained. Many argue that licensing cyclists would help increase the general knowledge of road rules and therefore decrease the number of law breakers on the road.
But, do cyclists not know the rules? Are the cyclists you sometimes see running red lights doing so because they don’t know what a red light means?
Of course not!
You take a person off of their bike and you’ve got a pedestrian, and we certainly don’t doubt that anyone getting around on their feet is ignorant of stop signs and red lights and crosswalk signals.
While city staff are now tasked with researching cyclist’s licenses for Torontonians, AGAIN, we as cyclists must be vocal about what we would want from such a system should it be implemented.
If part, if not most, of the money collected during licensing goes solely to cycling infrastructure, I have no issues with that. If having a bicycle licence plate means that EVERY motorist will pass me safely and legally and that I won’t be pushed out of lanes at intersections, then so be it.
Until the details of what exactly a cyclist’s licensing program in Toronto would be, it is hard to say whether we need one or not. What we don’t need is a bicycle licence, since we already have a free registry that could be made mandatory to aid in theft recovery.
Discuss licensing and your thoughts on the issue in the Biking Toronto Forum


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