While the UK Independence Party says in its 2010 election manifesto it wants cyclists to pay “a simple annual flat rate registration” for a ‘Cycledisc’ which will “cover damage to cars”, the independently governed island of Jersey is discussing charging cyclists up to £50 per bicycle to register their bikes, with an annual £5 on top.
Registration would be proved by large number plates but it’s mooted that those with carbon fibre bikes and others who couldn’t easily affix a number plate would be “required to wear a high visibility belt that clearly displays the cyclist’s registration number.”
This is music to the ears of those who believe cyclists are using roads “for free” and ought to “pay road tax.” Forum poster GMR wrote on the website of the Jersey Evening Post that “I think it is right to make cyclists pay for their use of the roads and I cannot see why any reasonable cyclist would have an issue with this provided they keep within the law.”
In Jersey as in the rest of the UK, roads are paid for by general and local taxation. ‘Road tax’ was abolished in 1937 and only ever paid for a small amount of road maintenance, never a major road building programme.
Many people don’t understand how roads are funded, and that cyclists have equal rights to be on roads that are paid by everybody not just motorists. Similarly, the Deputy of St John of the States of Jersey – the island’s parliament – doesn’t understand that bicycle registration schemes are not in widespread use around the world. Deputy Phil Rondel asked Jersey’s Transport department to investigate whether the island can resurrect its bike registration scheme from 1973 (dropped because it cost more to administer than it brought in).
In an official document asking for a review of the law, Rondel wrote: “Across the world, from Sark to Tonga and America to Australia, plus many European countries like Switzerland, have cycle registration.”
In a 23 page supporting document – of which 20 pages are appendices – Rondel includes two A4 pages from the Government of Western Australia’s Department for Transport. This is supposed to be proof that Western Australia has a bicycle registration scheme. In fact, it’s an application form for a ‘I’d rather be cycling instead’ car registration plate. Rondel clearly Googled for ‘bicycle registration’ but didn’t Google deep enough.
Bicycle registration has many pros and cons, but mostly cons, as reported on this site before.
One of the top, Daily Mail-esque reasons for bringing in cyclist registration schemes is that it will enable scofflaw cyclists to be spotted and reported as if a number plate is a magical talisman. Number plates on cars doesn’t stop some motorists from running red lights, speeding and talking on their mobile phones. If a pedestrian or driver spotted a youth doing something illegal on a number plated bike, what would the police do with that information? Likely, nothing. Because that’s what they do for pretty much all ‘minor’ highway infractions. Try this at home: ring the police and report a speeding car. Give the number plate and say you saw the driver doing 40mph in a 30mph zone.
Go to the police with just a license plate number and expect short shrift: whether that plate is on a car or a bicycle. But why stop at cars and bicycles? Why not prams? Or horses? Or pedestrians?
Jersey’s Transport Minister Mike Jackson seems to be opposed to Rondel’s ideas. In a long and detailed report, published on 9th April, he dissected the Deputy’s ideas and showed there were huge downsides to putting impediments into the way of a healthy activity such as cycling, including wider society costs of millions of pounds per year.
“Introducing a cycle registration scheme would only be worthwhile if the advantages of introducing a scheme clearly outweighed the disadvantages and maintaining the status quo,” said Jackson.
ADVANTAGES: • it may deter cycle theft; • it will assist in returning lost or stolen cycles to the registered owner; • it may help identify cycles committing traffic offences (but not the cyclist); • it may make certain cyclists ride more responsibly; • a reflective registration plate may improve visibility of cycles at night; • it may create additional work for cycle shops (fitting registration plates, maintaining bicycles); • third party insurance cover for cyclists could be made mandatory at the same time (this could also increase business for insurers); • if adopted as an income generator (tax), it could provide some additional funds for the States or parishes.
…but there are also far many more…
DISADVANTAGES: • legislation and further “red tape” will be needed; • resources will be required to introduce the legislation; • resources and systems will be required to implement, maintain and enforce the scheme; • it will discourage people from taking up or continuing cycling (jeopardising success of the Sustainable Transport Policy and a healthier lifestyle); • it will be considered by many as a further intrusion on people’s freedom; • any scheme will be bureaucratic involving form filling, establishing a register, producing records, requiring notification of change of ownership, etc.; • the scheme is likely to create “criminals” of people who forget to inform the authorities of change of address, change of owner, change of frame, etc.; • cycle shops may have reduced sales and reduced maintenance work; • bicycles could be subject to an increase in vandalism, particularly if the registration plates become collectable; • whether introduced as a tax or a fee based system (any fee should only recover the costs of operating a system and not generate any surplus), it will be an additional financial burden on households in these difficult times; • generally the costs of cycling will increase, decreasing the numbers of cyclists further; • the detrimental effect of discouraging people from participating in an activity that improves a person’s fitness will increase the future burden on society of tackling consequential health problems; • the detrimental effect of discouraging people from participating in an activity that may serve to reduce vehicle use will undermine the objective of reducing traffic congestion and the adverse environmental implications of car use.
Jackson also makes the point that registration plates on cars don’t stop drivers flouting the law: “While we can all recall seeing cyclists riding on footways, in pedestrian areas, through red lights, against one-way signs and without lights after dark, it is most unlikely we see this every day. However, most days we will see a motorist using a mobile phone when driving, a van driver smoking in his company vehicle, someone exceeding the speed limit, a noisy motorcycle, a car passenger not wearing a seat belt and other offences. These offences are committed in vehicles that have registration plates but seldom will people report these offenders to the authorities because they may see these offences as trivial or annoying and they just leave it to the police.”
Registering bicycles would cost more than commonly thought, said Jackson:
“An application form will have to be submitted; documents showing evidence of ownership, insurance cover, roadworthiness of the cycle and the like may be required; the relevant fee paid and receipted; details input into the system; registration document produced and posted to registered address; registration plate or security strip issued and fitted; transfer of ownership, change of name / address, loss of registration document and other significant events need to be recorded after first registration to keep the database up to date.”
If parishes adminstered any such scheme, “this would be additional work and it is likely that the parishes would require further resources to undertake this work,” said Jackson.
“Alternatively, it may be feasible that the cycle shops in the Island could administer the system, feeding into a central database. If a suitable, secure registration plate and means of attaching the plate to cycles can be found, it is more likely that cycle shops could readily fit the system than personnel at a parish hall. Similarly, the cycle should be fit for road use to be registered; cycle shop staff will more readily detect cycles that are not fit for use on the road.”
Jackson didn’t say how bike shops would be paid for this work. They wouldn’t do it for free, and they’re not keen on a scheme anyway, said Jackson.
“Initial discussions with cycle shops have identified that providing a universal registration plate and fitting system is impractical due to the variety of styles of cycles and materials used. For example, drilling or clamping a carbon fibre frame or stem would be unacceptable and there will be practical difficulties in finding a place to affix a plate system on many modern cycles, particularly a plate that is of a reasonable size to read. Fitting to the handlebars may just be possible but will be a hazard for some cyclists and a hindrance for others, for example mountain bikes, BMX bikes and racing bikes. These difficulties alone may suggest that a registration scheme for cycles to identify inconsiderate cyclists is not a practical proposition.”
The Transport Minster then threw in a red herring: “Perhaps it should be cyclists that register and they are required to wear a high visibility belt that clearly displays the cyclist’s registration number.”
Remind you of anything? Yellow cloth badges from the 1930s perhaps?
In both Christian and Islamic countries, persons not of the dominant religion were intermittently compelled by sumptuary laws to wear badges, hats, bells or other items of clothing that distinguished them from members of the dominant religious group.
Summing up, Jackson said: “The disadvantages of introducing a registration scheme appear to outweigh any advantages. In particular, a cycle registration scheme will jeopardise the success of the Sustainable Transport Policy by discouraging people from continuing to cycle or take up cycling, a healthy, zero emission pursuit that has the potential to help reduce congestion and contribute towards a more sustainable pattern of travel and transport in Jersey.
“Cycle registration will create further bureaucracy and increase the financial burden on households. If the government is to achieve its strategic objectives related to health and travel and transport it ought to be incentivising activities such as cycling, by making it cheaper and easier, not more expensive and more difficult.”
Jackson said the scheme might cost £30,000 to create, paid for by cyclists coughing up £50 per bike but “the detrimental effect on the health of Islanders who give up cycling or decide not to take up cycling is likely to result in a significant cost to society in the order of tens of millions of pounds per year.”