An Etobicoke councillor is looking to wheel out an old and controversial idea at city council next week: bicycle licensing.
Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) has submitted a motion asking transportation staff to report back early next year on options to license or register adult Torontonians’ bikes.
In an interview with the Star, Holyday said his goal is not to crack down on riders who break the rules of the road, because police already have the ability to ticket cyclists under the provincial Highway Traffic Act. But he said licensing the city’s two-wheeled vehicles could be an effective way to raise money for cycling infrastructure, gather ridership data, and increase safety awareness.
“Are there potentials for revenue? Are there potentials for information gathering? Is this a way that we can have better cycling infrastructure and better cycling in the city?” he asked.
Holyday, who last month was one of only two councillors to vote against adopting the city’s new 10-year cycling plan, said that if his motion passes he would support whatever staff recommend as a result of their study. But he believes licensing has broad public support.
His motion, which is co-sponsored by Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5, Etobicoke Lakeshore) cites a Forum Research poll from last month that found 56 per cent of respondents agree that bicyclists should be licensed (Holyday’s motion wouldn’t license riders, however — merely their bikes).
Asked why there is such strong support for the idea, Holyday speculated that it may in part be based on the perception that “if cyclists have exclusive use of infrastructure, they should also have to shoulder the cost of that.”
Predictably, the councillor’s motion is not going down well with cycling advocates. Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, said licensing “creates a disincentive to ride a bike” while “not providing any discernible benefit.”
He suggested licensing cyclists to raise money for bike infrastructure was unfair, because riders already contribute to infrastructure costs through property taxes.
Kolb argued that anyone who supports licensing as a way to ensure cyclists obey the rules of the road should instead advocate for more separated bike lanes to “create delineated space for motor vehicles and for cyclists. That is a fundamental way to bring order to the street.”
The idea of bicycle licensing is such a recurrent topic of debate at city hall that the city has set up a web page that outlines why the idea has repeatedly been rejected.
It notes that the city implemented a licensing bylaw in 1935, but rescinded it in 1957. Since then, the city has studied licensing on at least three separate occasions in 1984, 1992, and 1996, and decided against it each time. Previous studies determined that licensing would be a drain on police resources, require the creation of a costly bureaucracy, and be less cost-effective than existing enforcement measures.
Holyday argued that the idea is worth revisiting now because technological advancements could enable the city to institute a licensing regime more efficiently.
Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, the city’s manager of cycling programs, said staff will study the idea again if council asks them to, but “at this point I don’t think our recommendations would change.”
She said that no major jurisdiction in North America or Western Europe has a bike licensing system that takes in enough revenue to even cover administrative costs. “So the concept of it being a source of funds for cycling infrastructure, I think that hasn’t been proven,” she said.
Holyday’s motion will require the support of two-thirds of councillors to make it onto council’s agenda next week. If it fails to win enough votes, it will be referred to the public works and infrastructure committee.