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There’s a good reason why you don’t need a cycling licence

By Anika Zaman, October 11 2018 —

As cycling rises in popularity as a mode of transportation, many cities have looked towards implementing mandatory licensing policies for cyclists. A recent article in the Globe and Mail posed the question of whether cities should start issuing cycling licences. Toronto stopped requiring bike licences in 1957 and future attempts to bring them back have been unsuccessful. Even the City of Calgary considered requiring cycling registrations in 2003, before ultimately deciding against the issue. It’s a good thing they did, as a policy of licensing cyclists is entirely unnecessary.

The lack of a requirement for cycle licences currently comes down to the fundamental differences between licensing a motorized vehicle and a non-motorized vehicle. In order to obtain a motor vehicle licence, drivers must demonstrate competency in operating a vehicle. Since the unsafe operation of a motor vehicle is a hazard to public safety, licence examinations and vehicle registration are necessary for maintaining order.

Bicycles, on the other hand, do not pose the same safety threat. According to the Alberta Transportation Office of Traffic Safety, 38.3 per cent of fatal collisions in Calgary from 2005 to 2012 involved motorized vehicle drivers (excluding motorcyclists) as opposed to the 2.2 per cent of fatal collisions that involved cyclists. On top of that, safe cycling courses, such as the Urban Cycling Skills course offered by Bike Calgary, are available for those who wish to attend them.

Another argument for the implementation of bicycle licences is that it would reduce bicycle theft through a bike registry. But voluntary cycle registries already exist throughout many cities, such as the 529 Garage project in British Columbia. As these registries are well-established and widespread, the implementation of cyclist licences for the sole purpose of registering bicycles is redundant.

Cyclists are already bound by the rules of the road and can be held accountable if caught disobeying them. There are also rules specific to cyclists that ensure their safety, such as the mandatory usage of helmets for all cyclists under the age of majority. In the long-term, the financial losses for enforcing bike licences outweigh the gains. In 2011, city officials in Ottawa estimated that the annual revenue from cycling licences would be $40,000 as opposed to the $100,000 loss from the enforcement of cycling licences.

The failings of bicycle licensing systems are demonstrated in Regina, which had a bicycle licensing bylaw until 2015. Unsurprisingly, this bylaw was not well-enforced. Rather, the system functioned more like a voluntary bike registry. If municipalities implement cycle licences, it is crucial that they also implement a successful method of enforcing regulations, which has yet to occur in practice.

Additionally, the use of bicycles by people of all ages complicates the matter. It’s nonsensical to require licences for young children, as well as those who don’t leave their neighbourhood streets. Many cyclists stick exclusively to bicycle-only trails around the city and have limited interaction with motorists and pedestrians.

With all of the pre-existing rules and regulations surrounding cycling safety, the need for cycling licenses is a hassle for lawmakers and cyclists alike.

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