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.