Throughout Canada cyclists currently have the ability to walk into a bike store, hop on a bike and ride straight onto the road. Riders are expected to obey all traffic laws and be aware of the city bylaws (such as the legality of riding on the sidewalk), but they are never tested on their knowledge or required to get a license like drivers.
Vancouver Councilor Melissa De Genova wants to change that.
The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia is currently implementing sweeping changes in the way it covers drivers. Some, like De Genova, argue that now is the time to include bikes in the standard licensing and insurance system.
In BC, there have been a number of recent cases involving cyclist/pedestrian collisions. Currently, holding cyclists accountable for accidents is not very straightforward. Licensing proponents argue that mandatory education would reduce collisions and simplify court cases.
Including insurance for cyclists in the licensing process would also be beneficial for riders who’s bikes are not covered by home insurance.
Bike licenses in Canada
Toronto, and many other Canadian cities once had a bike licensing systems. In Toronto, the bylaw only lasted approximately 20 years, form 1935-1957, its numerous flaws are the same reason Canadian cities no longer have bike licensing systems.
From a purely financial standpoint, the amount of infrastructure required to put an affordable licensing system into place is normally enough for a city to shut down any discussion of licensing. It wouldn’t make sense to have cyclists paying more than the cost of some cheap commuter bikes for the ability to ride them, but maintaining an updated system without the income from license holders would be a large cost for a city.
Another reason mandatory licensing failed in Toronto is the grey line around children. Very young children bike, and requiring them to get a license to do so is complicated and can cause issues with enforcement. In 1957 when the licensing bylaw was abolished, Mayor Nathan Phillip stated that “licensing of bicycles will be discontinued because it often results in an unconscious contravention of the law at a very tender age, resulting in poor public relations between police officers and children.”
Opponents of bike licenses argue that the bureaucracy, time spent on police enforcement and cost to the provincial or municipal government are not worth the supposed benefit of having licensed cyclists. While it may increase public education, many potential cyclists, tourists and those living in poverty would be deterred from biking.
Studies have shown that fewer cyclists on the road leads to less driver awareness of bikes and a more dangerous environment for riders.