Licensing cyclists will discourage people from biking

Earlier today, a proposal was floated by a Chicago alderman to charge a $25 annual licensing fee for bikes in Chicago to help raise money for the city. Along with the fee, the alderman suggested that cyclists undergo an hour of bike safety training.

Active Trans supports the goals of raising revenue for transportation and educating people how to bike safely, but licensing bikes doesn’t improve safety, and the costs to implement a licensing program are likely to exceed the money it raises. 

Moreover, we should encourage cycling, not discourage it with a bike fee. Cycling frees up parking spaces and reduces congestion for people who drive. More people cycling means less wear and tear on roads, less air pollution and healthier residents.

Some say a fee is justified because cyclists don’t pay for roads, but that’s not true. Cyclists pay gas taxes (yes, many own cars, too!) along with sales and property taxes that pay for roads, and nationally gas taxes only cover 51 percent of road costs.

Moreover, cycling takes place mostly on local roads, which rely relatively little on gas taxes. If the city charges residents for cycling, should we charge pedestrians a fee, too, to pay for sidewalks?

Without enforcement of a licensing program, few people are likely to do it and the city won’t generate much money. But to do enforcement – to find all the bikes in Chicago and make sure the fee is paid annually – the city would have to create a new program that is likely to consume most or all of the new revenues.

And what about people who don’t live in Chicago but cycle in the city like suburban commuters and tourists? Do they need a license, too? How do the police know if a bike parked on the street without a license sticker belongs to a Chicagoan or not?

Logistically, it would be very difficult to give millions of Chicagoans bike education in a stand-alone class, but we have long advocated for folding bike and pedestrian education into state drivers tests, drivers education classes or school physical education classes.

Another simple and effective way to improve safety is for police to step-up issuance of tickets under the existing legal authorities. We do like the idea of mandatory safety education for people who get certain traffic tickets, and that could apply to cyclists as well.


This blog post was revised on Oct. 24, 2013.



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kind of agree

As a cyclist i think it will discourage but on the flip side it will add more safety and responsibility. As cycling grows so should the laws that go with it. Cyclists should be well trained and respect the cars just as they expect the cars to respect them


As a cyclist I would gladly pay a $25/year license fee, if motorists had to pay a proportionate fee, accounting for space used and road wear and tear. That would amount to thousands of dollars a year. Sounds fair to me.

I agree that time and money

I agree that time and money will discourage new riders from trying out biking. I think a "bikers ed" class would be great, but not everyone is going to do it. It can be hard to keep up with what's legal in the biking world- I'd think a well publicized video series would do the job. I'm all for enforcing the law where bikes are concerned- I see far too many people riding on sidewalks, blowing lights, and taking risks in traffic. It irks me as someone trying to promote biking among friends and family as something both safe and sane to see people making other cyclists look bad- ticket them, please. Or mandate a class in place of a fine- that's a great idea.

I don't know why people even

I don't know why people even bother getting upset by these outrageous proposals since they won't ever see the light of day. I remember laughing after reading about one stupid aldercreature's proposal to ban BYOBs. That plan went nowhere. And I know the proposal is not totally dead but I'm not worrying about it going anywhere.

$25 is Outrageous!

You know what? You're totally right. $25 is outrageous! The fee should be 10x that amount to ensure that the licensing program doesn't cost non-riding taxpayers. Actually, they should make the fee $500. I think that should be enough to pay for the traffic directors that had to be hired to direct bicyclists that couldn't understand how the traffic signals work at the Kinzie, Milwaukee and Desplaines intersection.

I believe they were directing

I believe they were directing traffic there lately because of the Grand Ave bridge closure. So many vehicles started taking that route and it was extremely backed up every morning until they started directing the cars and bikes alike. Don't just blame the cyclists!

Want the Benefits/Don't Want to Contribute

another case of a sub-class of society wanting something from the government - and not wanting to pay for it. miles of bike lane striping and signage didn't come without a cost. is $25 a year really too much to ask? and while the city should step up efforts to enforce bicycle laws and issue violations to offenders - i can't imagine collecting on any of those fines even works - if you have nothing to lose, you have no reason to make good on your debt.


Wouldn't such a fee completely kill Divvy's business? One would think their deal with the city would include provisions to prevent this from happening, though perhaps there are even more shady business and political dealings here than the usual.

I understand that many

I understand that many cyclists pay gas taxes through car ownership, but many do not. If your goal is to get people to drive less and/or go car-free, saying that cyclists pay gas tax is misleading and not very conducive to the goal. That said, I'm opposed to any sort of registration fee or class.

Especially since $25 is not much lower than the $135 a city car sticker costs. For all the benefits and the relative size and road wear of a bike compared to a car, the real price for registration would be around a dollar.

Educating cyclists makes streets safer

Many cyclists know and heed traffic laws. However many do not. Cyclists who do not know and obey traffic laws endanger all of us who are on the road. With rights come responsibilities: proper lighting, helmets, reflective clothing, signaling turns, heeding lights and stop signs, the list goes on. It's scary to think that people who have never taken driver's ed and do not have to know the rules of the road or what things look like from a driver's perspective are out there on the roads and they are NOT encased in a two-ton metal machine. The central issue should not be about raising revenue. It should be about safety. But here's an idea for raising revenue: Issue traffic tickets to cyclists who violate traffic laws.

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