The City of Toronto has examined the idea of bicycle licensing on many occasions in response to concerns surrounding pedestrian safety, bike theft and compliance with the law.
Bicycle licensing has not been adopted as a solution to these issues. If the intention of licensing is to increase cyclists’ compliance with traffic laws, and to reduce the number of conflicts with pedestrians and other road users, then licensing as an approach needs to be compared with other possible initiatives.
Studies have also concluded that licensing is not worth the creation of a major bureaucracy to oversee this practice. Learn more about the history of bicycle licensing in Toronto and the current issues surrounding licensing at the tabs below.
On May 20, 1935, the City of Toronto passed a by-law to license residents owning and using bicycles on the highways of the City.
The licensing process was quite complicated:
Moving to a new address, or transferring or exchanging a bicycle would require an individual to file updated information with the City. The cost of the yearly license was 50 cents, while the fine for not having a license on their bicycle was $5.00.
On February 4, 1957, City Council repealed the bicycle licensing by-law in the City. At that time, the Canada Cycle and Motor Company Limited suggesting that the City could use the services of the Bicycle Guild Incorporated to administer bicycle licensing.
The City, under Mayor Nathan Phillips, opted out of bicycle licensing, stating amongst other issues that “licensing of bicycles be discontinued because it often results in an unconscious contravention of the law at a very tender age; they also emphasize the resulting poor public relations between police officers and children.”
The City of Toronto has investigated licensing cyclists on at least three occasions in the recent past:
Licensing in the 1990s was discussed in response to concerns for pedestrian safety on sidewalks and compliance with traffic laws, where it has been rejected each time as a solution.
The major reasons why licensing has been rejected are:
The cost of obtaining a license to drive a motor vehicle is considerable, with a significant portion covering the administrative costs of maintaining an accurate database, and processing licenses. The costs of developing a system for bicycle licensing would be similar. The Ministry of Transportation has rejected calls to oversee bicycle licensing. If cyclists were asked to cover the cost of licensing, in many cases, the license would be more expensive than the bicycle itself.
There are challenges in creating one standardized test that could be used by adults and children as young as five years old. It could be argued that licensing would allow an opportunity for education, but the bureaucracy of such a mandatory system has been seen as too cumbersome to develop.
Many people travel across municipal boundaries by bicycle; thus, it has been determined that the most logical jurisdiction to license is the province, which has rejected licensing. Historically, municipalities have licensed bicycles in Ontario.
The discussions about cyclists and the law have raised questions about police spending their time and limited resources on enforcing licenses rather than traffic laws. Most people would argue that enforcing traffic laws is more worthwhile. Police who have been involved in the studies of licensing have determined that the HTA already gives them the necessary tools, such as Section 218, to conduct proper enforcement.
In each of the aforementioned cases, major problems and difficulties arise in establishing a licensing system. If the goal of licensing is to increase cyclists’ compliance with traffic laws and to reduce the number of conflicts with pedestrians and other road users, other initiatives must be explored. Options include: blitz enforcement of rules on sidewalk cycling, public awareness campaigns, and skills training through CAN-BIKE. The provision of bicycle-friendly facilities, such as bike lanes, are more effective in meeting the goals of cyclist compliance with traffic laws than the investment in licensing.
Concerns over cyclist compliance with traffic laws require ongoing attention and consideration. If major investments are to be made by governments or by cyclists, the overall public policy goals associated with that investment should be addressed. For example, there is a strong public policy case to be made for licensing motor vehicle drivers. Hundreds of lives are lost each year due to motor vehicle crashes and collisions, and many thousands more are injured. Cyclists are involved in a smaller number of incidents, which must be addressed. However, given the benefits of cycling to health, the environment, and the community, ongoing efforts to increase cycling compliance with traffic laws must be a part of an overall strategy to promote safe cycling.
The police recover many stolen bikes, but are often unable to return the stolen property to the rightful owner, as there is often no record of ownership.
The Toronto Police Service still registers bicycles using the factory identification numbers. A challenge is that many manufacturers repeat serial numbers, which makes it difficult to use as a means of identification. In this instance, a license might help ensure that the rightful owner can recover their bicycle.
A strong counterargument is that license plates, stickers, or other means of identification can be stripped from the bike, making a license hard to use as a reliable means of identification.
The need to identify a cyclist who has broken a traffic law or been involved in a collision has been identified as a key concern.
The various studies that have looked at licensing for cyclists have determined that there are many problems with issuing licenses to cyclists.
Police believe they have adequate tools to address cyclists who break traffic laws. The most important was the 1989 addition of Section 218 to the Highway Traffic Act.