Bicycle licensing is impractical, hurts the economy, and is punitive

Every once and a while the subject of bicycle licensing (whatever that means) comes up. In this case, it was Forum Research, a polling firm that decided to include it as one of their questions. There's no better way to raise the profile of a polling firm by addressing controversial topics and then get the results printed in a newspaper.

In a leading question, they asked “Do you approve or disapprove of licensing bicyclists so that traffic laws can be enforced with them?” The whole "so that" at the end makes the listener think that the only options are licensing or lawless chaos, sweeping away thoughts of cyclists already getting ticketed in yearly blitzes.

The Star panned their own article on bicycle licensing by reaching out to wonky folks like Cycle Toronto and yours truly (never one to give up a chance of self-promotion). The gist, bicycle licensing is confusing, impractical, punitive and would hurt tourism and the economy. Licensing hasn't prevented drivers from getting in crashes, so it's not clear how it solves things.

Bicycle licensing are a favourite of right-wing, suburban, driving politicians who find cyclists as a handy urban scapegoat, while mandatory helmets are a favourite of left-wing politicians who see cycling as a dangerous past time and that cyclists need to be saved from themselves. Neither group understands cycling or its potential to transform cities for the better.

“Bad poll. Wrong message. Bike licensing doesn’t work. Police have powers of enforcement. Go w(ith) education instead,” tweeted Cycle Toronto.

Of the 834 respondents, 65 percent approved. But the question didn’t make much sense to some people who pointed out that cyclists are already subject to the Highway Traffic Act. (Although the act does apply to cyclists, Police Chief Bill Blair told the police services board in 2011 that licensing would “create a certain accountability that would assist us in enforcement.”)

The issue of licensing comes up so frequently that the City of Toronto has a website devoted to its history, and Cycle Toronto has a statement online. The group opposes the idea on the grounds that creates unnecessary and costly red tape, when legislation already exists. Also, it discourages cycling.

The city investigated the idea of licensing cyclists in 1984, 1992 and 1996. The city’s manager of cycling infrastructure and programs says it is not currently being studied and doesn’t have much merit.

“This notion that if people have a licence they’d be better cyclists, that hasn’t stopped drivers from crashing into each other,” said Daniel Egan.

Another question in the Forum survey asked if licensing would be a fair trade for European style bike infrastructure.

“There’s a presumption that cyclists aren’t paying for anything, and don’t deserve anything, as if we don’t pay property taxes,” says I Bike Toronto blogger Herb van den Dool.

Since cyclists can already be stopped by police, van den Dool says licensing seems to be a way to collectively punish cyclists “because somehow there’s been a general sentiment created that we’re getting away with murder.”

Even further, it is an impractical idea that would hamper tourism efforts like the Bixi program, he said.

Eleanor McMahon, founder of Share the Road, says many people assume that a licence is a way to “control or change behaviour.”

“That hasn’t necessarily been the case with licensing cars,” she said.


Well spoken, Herb! It's a red herring and how to you fight red herrings? Maybe by exposing the vulnerable side of the folks that started the offensive.

So let's presume that their argument is valid and we thus could apply the argument on a broader scope. Like on those gadgets on the road other than bikes whose use does lead to collisions and fatal consequences. And then let's pick the one that we know to be the major contributor to death and dismemberment.

It's not cars, we've got those covered already by licensing. I'd say next on the list would be cell phones - whose use creates a high level of distraction. Distraction that renders a driver as incapable of good decisions as the use of alcohol.

So if someone asks me what I think of licensing bikes, I'll suggest that we license the use of phone (any, hand-held or not) while driving. There's a much higher gain of security on the road and all should be thankful for my suggestion! But I doubt they will - but they might avoid the topic of licensing in my presence from then on....

Yes cars licensed crash, but now u have a recourse to claim insurance for the medical bills (and no Libs OHIP does not cover even 20%) and damages.. the bikes can sue me, but i cant sue back..something stinks here, and its not the carbon emissions.

Yes cars licensed crash, but now u have a recourse to claim insurance for the medical bills (and no Libs OHIP does not cover even 20%) and damages.. the bikes can sue me, but i cant sue back..something stinks here, and its not the carbon emissions.
maria (not verified)

Maria: I can smell it too.
* you cannot sue bike riders? Of course you do, except he'll probably have to pay out of his own pocket rather than be covered by insurance.
* damages on a collision between a bike and a car:
- $200 to touch up a scratch and pull out a dent. The driver is not injured, according too the typical police report, so, no cost. You can get that from small claims court. Assuming it was the cyclist's fault

Aren't we protesting a bit much when the damage is so low, and recoverable?

I would be happy if electric cycle drivers had to get licenses. (Is that bad of me?)

Bike safe infrastructure will be achieved in our cities, only if the Province introduces Legislation to over-ride the conflicts, contradictions, and political shenanigans at the Municipal level.

That's why I am asking you all, to "Sign & Share" our Petition:

We want to get 500 signatures, and we are almost there!



It was funny when people were pitching this as a revenue source. Then when someone did the math it turned out it would be a huge expense for the city for any reasonable license cost.

The bicycle-licensing concept is so poorly crafted that it seems obvious to me that its supporters are ignorant (I'm looking at you Chief Blair), if not malicious.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the bad survey was that most people surveyed said they would be in favour of a trade off between licensing cyclists and investing in "comprehensive European style bicycle infrastructure".

Despite the fact that no city in the world currently has mandatory bicycle licensing, and that Toronto has already rejected it three times, I suspect that we are likely to engage this stupid notion again in the near future. at has a short article on the history of bike licenses in Toronto.

"For twenty-two years between 1935 and 1957, all riders, young and old, were required to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops before turning a pedal on Toronto's streets.

According to the City of Toronto, cyclists had to apply for a license at City Hall, have their bike inspected at a local police station and provide paperwork proving that it had been deemed road-worthy. The city would then issue another piece of paper that was to be brought back to the police station where a metal, one-year license plate would be stamped.

Each successful application cost 50-cents and the license plate had to be displayed on the rear mudguard at all times. The fine for non-compliance was $5."

Waste of money, but only because most of us already have been through the process to obtain our driver's permit and therefore have a somewhat standardized understanding of traffic laws.

Now about the little jab at the "left" haha...

There are lot of dumbass "right" cyclists and generally they are the ones without helmets. So I am thinking we could kill two birds with one stone there; get caught riding without a helmet and pay a steep fine or be sent to traffic school and explained to what happens when your fashionable pompousness goes tumbling over a car door or across a wet streetcar track lined intersection. It's science and education supported by the gov't... Something the "right" claims to love.

In my opinion, placing restrictions on cycling is pompous, whether it is licenses, helmets or insurance.

The idea of municipal licencing of cyclists is based on the assumption that cyclists do not cross municipal boundaries. If one city adopts bike licencing, others might too. I live in Scarborough and can easily ride to Markham or Pickering. I'm not unusual among cyclists. An afternoon bike ride should not turn into a bureaucratic nightmare. We need some legal protection to prevent this.

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