Should bicycles be registered?

The Victorian Employer’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) reckons bicycles should be registered and cyclists licensed.

VECCI’s recently released Infrastructure and Liveability policy paper, which is intended to influence public debate in the lead up to this year’s state election, argues that “road users should be treated equally. For example, all road users, including cyclists, should be licensed and vehicles registered”.

There are four key arguments commonly advanced against compulsory registration.

The first is that registration, as it is traditionally understood, is a charge for road damage, which rises exponentially with axle load. Since bicycles are extremely light compared to cars and trucks, the amount of damage they do is inconsequential.

The second is that fees for compulsory third party personal insurance are collected as part of the registration process. Again, bicycles are so light that the likelihood of cyclists seriously injuring other road users is very low (although they might injure themselves).

The third argument is that the scope for “incentivising” cyclists to obey the road rules via registration is limited. The main offence committed by motorists – speeding – doesn’t apply to most cyclists. They don’t avoid tolls because they’re not permitted on freeways and they don’t do a runner at petrol stations. Some might get picked up running red lights but not enough to justify the administrative cost of registration or the inconvenience of arming bicycles with legible number plates.

Finally, it is contended that cyclists impose very low, even zero, costs on the environment compared to motorised vehicles. Accordingly, they should be exempted from registration charges.

But while there is substance to all these arguments, I suspect VECCI might argue that there are more costs involved in providing and maintaining roads than just those that derive from axle loads. The weight of a vehicle might not be a particularly good way of capturing the full extent to which different vehicles use roads. Since cyclists do use road space and to some extent impose costs on other road users, the argument would be that they should pay their way.

It’s probably also not helpful to run environmental impact and charging for road space together. The former should be addressed by charging all road users, including drivers and cyclists, the real costs they impose on the environment and on other road users. Under such a policy cyclists would pay virtually nothing. But where cyclists use road space that should be paid separately.

But having said all that, I’m not sure that the cost of road space occupied by cyclists is all that significant. My feeling is that it would not be high enough to justify the undoubtedly large administrative expenditure that would be required to set up a compulsory registration system. And registration implies that bicycles would have to be identifiable in some way, leading to higher administrative costs for the provision of something like a (wind-dragging) plate legible on a camera.

I’m more kindly disposed to the idea of licensing cyclists (rather than bicycles) as I think increasing on-road use requires that cyclists understand the road rules better. I also think it would have value in convincing motorists that cyclists are legitimate road users. But once again, the administrative costs seem too large to justify such a move.


9 Comments on “Should bicycles be registered?”

  1. Matthew says:

    Absolutely not. There madness lies.

    I’ve said it before on the Melbourne Urbanist. Bicycle registration is the litmus test of transport policy idiocy. VECCI has absolutely no credibility. They are clearly morons for even considering it.

    Those 4 reasons you give are all reasons not to. Plus the costs of cycleway infrastructure should be borne by motorists since they are the ones endangering other legitimate road users. Also cycleway infrastructure reduces the need for public transport, so it is reducing costs all round.

    I remember seeing when a cost/benefit analysis was done that cyclists should be paid to ride their bikes because their externalities are trivial compared to the externalities of both public transport and private cars. Every cyclist is saving the government and taxpayers money.

    Besides I have 4 bicycles and 1 car. I am likely to get more bicycles, and a recumbent trike, but I don’t need or want another car. Bicycle registration will be a huge disincentive, as bad as mandatory helmets, against an activity that actually should be encouraged at every level of government and society.

    It would be hugely regressive and very, very, very, very, VECCI, very, stooooooooopid.

  2. Michael says:

    I don’t believe this issue is a serious one. It’s just cyclists-baiting that is regularly recycled by media trolls to get a reaction. There is no real need for it, it’s clearly unworkable and I can guarantee it’s never going to happen anyway.

    I’d like to know the names of some businesses who would like to champion this nonsense publicly. VECCI is just demonstrating it’s captive to the car lobby dinosaurs and not surprisingly they hate cyclists.

  3. Michael says:

    I didn’t have very high expectations about what these proposals might involve, but I hadn’t anticipated something as thin and half-baked as this.

    “For example, transport planning should not be a form of social engineering where citizens are forced on to particular modes of transport through lack of choice.”

    What is that supposed to mean exactly? I’ll have a tram line close to my place so I can exercise my choice!

    “Road users should be treated equally. For example, all road users, including cyclists, should be licensed and vehicles registered.”

    So being treated equally on the road means charging everyone? The idea that cyclists could or would ever be treated equally on the roads could only be thought up by:
    a). Someone who never rides in traffic or
    b). A moron.

  4. martinsj2 says:

    A perfect way to stifle cycling in any community. If you’d like more cars on the roads, then crush whatever cycling community exists with licensing and registration requirements.

  5. Russell says:

    It’s not possible to precisely work out these user-pays things: we all pay taxes and some of that is used for roads. A bit like the childless paying taxes that support state schools.

    Public transport is heavily subsidised – should public transport users pay the full cost? No.

    But the third party insurance is an issue. Cyclists should have it. Bowl over an old person who breaks their hip, or a young child, or God Forbid scratch a Porsche …

  6. Matthew says:

    @Russell,
    “But the third party insurance is an issue. Cyclists should have it. Bowl over an old person who breaks their hip, or a young child, or God Forbid scratch a Porsche …”

    I’m much of the opinion for an accident (not malicious damage) if you damage any vehicle then you should be responsible with only paying for the costs of fixing or replacing a generic vehicle. i.e. crash into a Porsche and it costs $120,000 or whatever to replace, but a generic car is only $20,000 so you only have to pay $20,000. The extra $100,000 is the owner of the luxury vehicle’s responsibility, and they can insure for that at their own expense.

    i.e. why should everybody’s insurance premiums rise because someone wastes money on a luxury car?

    • Michael says:

      You raise a good point regarding insurance. I ride my bike to work everyday so I joined Bicycle Victoria mainly for the insurance cover. I also pay rego on a car I don’t drive much. Clearly insurance is something that some people need more than others. There must be tens of thousands of bikes around Melbourne that are lucky if they get ridden occasionally in the park. Making everyone pay 3rd party insurance is simply unnecessary. How about roller bladders, skateboarders, joggers, people running for a train or bus or pushing supermarket trolleys? They can all be involved in minor accidents leaving scuff marks on luxury cars or knocking over people with bad hips?

  7. jack horner says:

    The remarkable thing about VECCI’s policy statement is that the single sentence quoted by Alan is the entire comment on this matter in the referenced policy document.

    No further detail. No discussion of costs or benefits. Niente. Nada.

    The idea seems to come solely from some half-baked, ideologically driven concept of ‘equality’

    It is most regrettable that a body of VECCI’s standing should be making policy so casually.

  8. Alex says:

    I think the debate we should be having is about repealing the compulsory helmet laws, at least for people over eighteen. As for VECCI I wish they’d just go away, they’re boring already.


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