Tuesday, July 25, 2017

License to Fail

It seems that every so often people insist that cyclists need to be licensed and insured, like car drivers and their vehicles. This sort of thinking is often an emotional response when car drivers feel threatened by a change in or enforcement of existing laws. With 5th Squares recent lawsuit to have the city enforce existing laws regarding parking on the Broad St. median has brought this issue to the attention of the usual collection of kooks.

Usually this consists of small groups of individuals who claim that cyclists are the most dangerous vehicles on the road. Why? Because they said so. Even video evidence that shows car drivers are statistically more likely to do so is dismissed with unsubstantiated claims of how cyclists run red lights and stop signs. So I thought it was time to delve into this matter and see how past attempts to license cyclists has worked.

The lack of bicycle insurance similar to car insurance is easily answered. A bicycle can easily be insured for its replacement cost through a standard renters or homeowners insurance. And let’s face it, just how much damage other than a dent can a bicycle do to a car in a collision.  

There is the economic feasibility of offering bicycle insurance similar to car insurance. Since the cost of replacing a damaged bicycle is far lower than that of a car, it would not be cost effective for insurance companies to create policies. Given the very low premiums they would have to charge. The bottom line is that if insurance companies thought they could profit from this they would have offered this type of insurance for cyclists a long time ago.

So now we are going to explore the reasons why licensing bicycles and their operators has never worked.
There are three reasons why bicycle licensing fails.
1. The challenge of licensing children, since they ride bikes too
2. The difficulty of keeping a database complete and current
3. Licensing in and of itself does not change the behavior of cyclists or motor vehicle operators who are disobeying traffic laws.
Let’s start with number 1;  The of licensing children, given that they ride bikes too. How old does one have to be to have a license? What about people who don’t live in Philadelphia, but do ride their bikes in the city or tourists. Will they be required to get a bicycle license?

Then there is issue number 2; The difficulty in keeping a database complete and current. You are going to have to hire people to create and maintain a rather large database. Combined with the cost of doing so. Computer servers, employees, office space, and the materials needed to create a physical license all cost money and that is going to have to come from somewhere. A number of cities have tried this and failed due to cost and manpower. Seattle, WA is a particular poignant example of how this is not as easy as it sounds.

San Diego, CA: (2012) “The city’s Fire Rescue and Police departments reported the licensing program has drawn virtually no revenue for any city department over the last three years.” (1)
Long Beach, CA: (2011)The cost to administer the bicycle license program greatly exceeded its revenue. (2)
Los Angeles, CA: (2008)“Currently LAPD lacks the resources in staffing and funding to implement and maintain the program in the manner it was designed. A lack of fiscal procedures exist to purchase and distribute licenses to the public, monitor and maintain the citywide database, and an overall lack of personnel to properly implement the program. (3)
San Jose, CA: (2008) An audit revealed that in 2008–2009 the city collected $636 in bike license fees.“ Program was cancelled in 2013 (4)
Seattle, WA: (2008) Seattle has over 500,000 bicycles in the city and found maintenance of the project difficult due to the required cost of record keeping and police manpower required to maintain the program.
Houston, TX: (2008) “About 100 were actually registered. Since people move around so much, even those who registered their bikes had outdated data, and finding the owners if the bike was stolen and recovered was usually impossible.” (5)
Ottawa, Canada: Ottawa estimated that a bicycle registration program would cost $100,000 a year but only bring in $40,000 in revenue. (6)

Number 3, is something we see in the news every week; Licensing in and of itself does not change the behaviour of cyclists who are disobeying traffic laws. How many times do we read about or see on TV hit and runs where the driver is never caught? Or even when they are caught it does nothing to reduce the chances of it happening again.

At the end of the day I do not need a license for a police officer to write me a ticket as a cyclist. Any more than pedestrians need a walking license to be ticketed for jaywalking. If cyclists truly are the law breakers that some would believe, riding through the streets of Philadelphia with reckless abandon. Then the most effective solution is actual enforcement on the part of the police. Until that happens in a manner that involves equal enforcement and education of all vehicle operators then it will be business as usual in Philadelphia.

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