Let’s be clear what I’m talking about first. I’m not talking about a special license for people that would be required to operate a bicycle on the roads. As as been stated over and over, most cyclists are actually already licensed drivers. What I’m talking about is a license (or registration) on the bicycle itself. Yup. I’m actually 100% in favor of this. This will probably surprise some of the motorists that like to bring this up as a requirement or them to feel like they need to share the road with me.
And I will undoubtedly piss off some of my fellow cyclists. But let me tell you why…
Let’s set aside for a moment how cost prohibitive this has proven to be every time someone has tried it. Let’s ignore the very real fact that, as an inexpensive commodity, bicycles frequently change hands, and that frequency makes tracking bicycle ownership hugely challenging compared to motor vehicles. Let’s ignore for now sticky issues about what bikes we register (Tricycles? Unicycles? Kids BMX bikes? Bicycle trailers used to haul children?) Hell, let’s even pretend that somehow we make all of this happen without having license fees that far exceed the actual purchase price of the bike.
Let’s just assume for a moment that bicycles are registered in the same way that cars are. What would that look like.
Well, it would go something like this. I’d head down to my local bike shop and check out some new bikes. I’d find one I want and I’m be ready to purchase. Before I can walk out the door with the bike, there would be someone that walked me through all the DMV (or would that be DPV – Department of Pedaled Vehicles?) paperwork to ensure that I was legally registered before I took the bike out on the road. This would of course but an additional burden on the already strapped local bike shop, but in theory that cost would be offset by … whatever was funding our new DPV program.
So by the time I roll my shiny new bike out onto the street, there is an official record in the “official database” that ties that specific bike, by serial number, to me. I’m that bike’s legal owner. No one else can make legal claim to it.
Would this model be a barrier to getting more people on bikes? That is a very common argument within the bicycle community that we should remove – not add – barriers to people getting on a bike. In the above scenario, while perhaps the cost would be slightly elevated, I don’t actually think it would be a significant barrier.
It is interesting if you stop and consider what are the actual problems you face every day are as a cyclist. Sure, there is a lot of work to get laws, infrastructure and opinions to a place more favorable to cyclists. But while stop sign laws and police enforcement are indeed important to me, those aren’t the items on the top of my mind when I ride downtown to meet my partner for dinner, run to the local drugstore, or simply ride to work in an office that doesn’t allow me to bring my bike indoors.
I’m worried first and foremost about one thing: will my damned bike get stolen while I’m gone.
There are plenty of voluntary, self registration services out there. Every community seems to have their own – including San Francisco. But if my bike was registered, legally via the state, before I even left the store with it… that’s a huge improvement.
And the fact that it will eliminate the asinine and factually incorrect “…when they pay registration to use the road…” argument out of the arsenal of uneducated anti-cyclists flamers. Damn, that sounds like some tasty icing on the cake.
So that is why I am 100% in favor of bicycle registration and/or licensing.
But it is also a completely B.S. statement, because it really can’t happen.
That laundry list of things we agreed to “ignore” early on in this post – well those are actual, real, difficult to solve problems facing bicycle registration. As soon as the common motorists vehicle registration fees went up to help offset the governmental logistics costs of running a bike registration program, motorists would be the first group against registration.
This seems to be a growing trend in anti-bicycle rhetoric lately in San Francisco. My advise to the “make ’em register, then I’ll share the road” crowd: be careful what you wish for, because it probably doesn’t quite look like you expect it to. But if we can devise a system that provides the same requirements and protections as motor vehicles, with a pricing scheme based on value and tonnage like motor vehicles, I will fully advocate for that.