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Mar 11, 2014

Is it high time push bikes were registered?

Radio 3AW drive time host Tom Elliott reckons it’s “high time those who ride pushbikes pay a form of registration similar to that incurred by the owners of engine-powered vehicles”


Extraordinarily dangerous and deliberate overtake of a cyclist (language warning)

Writing in the Herald Sun on the weekend, 3AW drive time host Tom Elliott argued that because cyclists can’t be identified, they ignore red lights; ride between tram tracks; congregate in pelotons that hold up motorists; put pedestrians on shared pathways at risk; and cycle illegally on footpaths (Make cyclists pay for their sweet ride).

In short, cyclists often break the rules of the road simply because they can get away with it. Because of that, many Melbourne motorists detest bike riders.

Mr Elliott is a cyclist as well as a driver but he wants to see all-round better behaviour from riders. His big policy idea is that “cyclists should pay a form of registration in return for being allowed to use the road”.

However he doesn’t run the customary line that motorists pay for roads and cyclists don’t. He acknowledges that revenue generated by road vehicle registration fees and the 38.5 cents/litre excise tax on petrol isn’t hypothecated for road construction and maintenance.

Like most government expenditure, the construction and maintenance of highways, streets, lanes, etc, occurs out of the same giant pot as most other public sector activities.

Rather, he advances two other arguments in support of his proposal.

First, fees collected as part of the registration process go to Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission (TAC) which, he says, “funds the treatment for all people injured in transport accidents, something from which cyclists are most certainly not immune”.

I think that’s a weak argument. Compulsory TAC insurance covers other parties – including cyclists – in the event they’re injured by the drivers of large, heavy and speedy vehicles i.e. cars, vans, trucks, buses.

Compared to vehicles with engines, cyclists travel relatively slowly and are extraordinarily light i.e. they don’t bring anywhere near as much kinetic energy to a collision. Even a tiny two-door car like a Fiat 500 weighs around 900 kg and can easily travel well over 100 km/hr; a Mazda 3 weighs around 1300 kg. The robust bikes used by Melbourne Bike Share, on the other hand, weigh about 18 kg; road bikes are almost always under 10 kg.

It’s true that from time to time there are cases where pedestrians are killed or severely injured by cyclists but they’re uncommon. According to this study, the risk of a pedestrian being killed in a collision with a cyclist in Australia is lower than the risk of being struck by lightning.

Further, the risk of “a pedestrian being injured as a result of an impact with a cyclist is a low risk event and of the order equivalent to being killed in an airline crash”. In neither case does the risk warrant the sort of bureaucracy implied by a mandatory third party insurance/registration scheme.

Mr Elliott’s second argument is that registration “allows vehicles using public roads to be identified by the authorities”. He contends that red light and speed cameras:

exist to fill gaps in road rule enforcement that a constantly stretched police force cannot always manage…there is little doubt that the implicit threat of a fine causes most motorists to improve their behaviour behind the wheel.

I think that’s a questionable rationale for a number of reasons. One is that most driving offences are for speeding (a leading cause of road casualties). In the case of bicycles, however, excessive speed on roads is simply not a serious problem.

Another reason is that cyclists who ignore red lights rarely present the sort of danger to other road users that a motorist who “runs a red” does. They exhibit extreme care at intersections because they’re aware of their own vulnerability; they’re the ones most likely to get seriously hurt in a collision with a vehicle.

In fact cyclists who disobey traffic signals don’t commonly “run” red lights; it would be more accurate to say they “negotiate” them.

As a matter of practicality, making bicycles identifiable to cameras (e.g. via a licence plate legible at a distance) while maintaining a reasonable level of utility for cyclists would be a big challenge. Perhaps there’ll come a time when both cars and bicycles can be equipped with tiny transponders, but that seems a long way off.

A further practical issue is how a registration scheme would be administered. The amount that governments could realistically charge would be modest; families with multiple bicycles would be unhappy with high fees.

Others would point out that, compared to motor vehicles, an appropriate fee for bicycles should be small because they use little road space and impose no damage on roads and paths.

There’s a distinct possibility that any plausible fee would be so small it wouldn’t even cover the administrative costs of a registration scheme.

Finally, even if registration were “free”, it’s likely the burden of compliance would make cycling a less attractive choice for many people. That’s at odds with the stated policies of all governments in Australia to promote cycling.

It’s true that those who’re deterred would have other options for exercise, but there’d be some for whom cycling is the best fit. It’s also true that at present most cycling doesn’t replace car trips; it’s either done for recreation and/or fitness, or it’s a substitute for public transport.

However the potential to increase the use of bicycles in lieu of cars – given appropriate policy settings e.g. better infrastructure – would undoubtedly be weakened by registration.

I’ve no doubt that many cyclists disobey the road and shared path rules from time-to-time, as Mr Elliott contends. So do many motorists when they exceed the speed limit on residential streets, or roll through stop signs, because they know the chances of being caught are infinitesimal.

Those sorts of offences aren’t likely to be prevented or detected without a massive increase in surveillance. At this time it’s not clear if enough of the population regard them as a problem big enough to warrant that sort of intervention.

As I noted here, the real problem for advocates of bicycle registration is political. Many households at all income and wealth levels have multiple bicycles. Many of them are children’s bicycles and a lot aren’t worth much. Charging even $40 p.a. registration (which is around what my council charges for each spayed dog) would be a very hard sell.


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31 thoughts on “Is it high time push bikes were registered?

  1. Burke John

    How dumb a large number motorists are in this country. Cyclists need recourse when they experience stupidity and colloquialist non-think commentary and behaviour. For the foreseeable future that would seem to be beer.

  2. David Penington

    Can I have recourse for all the times I see cars in bicycle holding boxes at intersections and blocking the bike lane ?
    I see most cars go across the stop line at traffic lights, and they all go into bike boxes if there’s a second lane with its stop line beside the box. Stop lines at traffic lights are a real government revenue raising opportunity.

  3. chpowell

    “Motorists need recourse for when they experience or witness dangerous cycling behaviour.”

    Irony stands mute. Jozef Stalin

  4. suburbanite


    No motorists are not all out to get cyclists. Only a tiny percentage of motorists deliberately intimidate cyclists. The main problem is incompetence caused by car design, inattention and an over-estimation of skill – this effects at least 40% of male drivers and maybe 15% of female drivers.

  5. Tom the first and best


    Motorists are definitely over catered for.

    Pedestrians are not. The road authorities often treat pedestrians as an after though. The pedestrian budget is a fraction of the cycling budget. Anyone can be a pedestrian (counting users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters as pedestrians) but not everyone can be a cyclist or motorist. Walking is also the major access mode for PT in Australia.

  6. Itsarort

    The road is not, never was, nor never will be, a safe place; not for motor bikes, cars, trucks and especially not for cyclists and pedestrians. Suck it up cyclists or get a horse.

  7. Di Keller

    ^^^ Hahaha!!! For goodness sakes what is all the vindictive, spiteful revenge talk from cyclists. The motorists are out to get you all ?

  8. Warrior Factor

    The entire issue is summed up by this comment earlier, by Harry Belcher: [i]”Motorists need recourse for when they experience or witness dangerous cycling behaviour.[/i]”

    So it’s spiteful revenge out hate and jealousy? There’s no call for registered pedestrians even though they break laws like running red lights and j-walking far, far more often. Even motorists, who constantly break laws like speeding when they believe no one is watching, when has a motorist taken “recourse” against a fellow motorist? Never.

    The only way this sick, bigoted attitude will be reversed is if govt and cycling groups end this obsession of classifying bicycles as “vehicles” and correspondingly end the application of laws equal to them, especially in terms of sanction. No where in the world sees this, just like the insane policy of banning bicycle use if not wearing a helmet. There needs to be a “re-huamnising” of bike riders as regular people merely transporting themselves about and thrown onto roads because few facilities are provided for them. Look to Europe for the answers, not this pathetic persecution.

  9. andrew kaye

    I really think the anti bike sentiment mostly comes from the inherrant CONCERN given them by drivers. When driving near cyclists most drivers are hyper aware of them, due to riders’ fragility and unpredictable (and unsignalled) nature.

    There is a necessary lapse in peripheral awareness when a cyclist is nearby, that no driver enjoys.

    Shared roads are the problem – Im sure all agree: I dont like riding in traffic and I dont like bikes in my lane when Im driving.

    I see the pushy-registration suggestion as just a confused, thoughtless expression of this sentiment (Im trying to be charitable here…) as it obviously would be completely useless and burdensome to boot.

    The ‘identify bike misdemeanours’ rationale also seems pointless, as vehicular traffic offences require evidence – usually a statement or reading from an officer (ok may hypothetically be able to nab some red light jumpers and some superfit lycra warriors speeding with a camera) but there seems little benefit in having an ID/rego scheme without the policing to go with, and, with the occasional and minor nature of infractions, its never going to realistically be considered.

  10. suburbanite

    Why are so many cyclists so against registration at any cost ???

    I’m not against registration at any costs. I’m against registration for vindictive purposes which is entirely what it’s about. Pedestrians and motorists (almost always the same people) are over-catered for, when the imbalance has been corrected we could talk registration although it still wouldn’t achieve anything.

  11. Di Keller

    This article is definitely biased towards cyclists. Saying even if they do hit you they can’t hurt too much is a pretty poor excuse for breaking the law. Haha!! Registration for me would definitely be about recognising and in particular, discouraging bad behaviour. Not a money issue at all.
    I am coming from a pedestrians point of view more than anything, I walk a lot and I’m sure some of the near misses from cyclists has shortened my life span. ! You have bells please use them. !!
    Btw I have seen cyclists on the phone and really really stupidly texting.
    I have chosen to be a pedestrian because, firstly it’s an environmental issue, secondly it is bloody dangerous out there as a cyclist.
    If anything would turn me against cyclists it is the sort of comments we get from them on articles like this.
    To say bicycles are not dangerous is ridiculous. Rare though it is people do get killed and they might not be seriously injured but they are injured. I have been hit twice by bikes and it hurt. !!
    Why are so many cyclists so against registration at any cost ???

  12. Liamj

    Tom Elliot & Patriot are frightened of cyclists because they remind them of their impotent decrepitude. I’ll bet the brontosauri weren’t pleased about their passing either.

  13. suburbanite

    This is just another demonstration of how clueless motorists are. It’s time motorists started paying their way! I for one am sick of having to breath in toxic exhaust just because some fat lazy old man is car-bound. At least have the common decency to deal with your one effluent instead of blowing it continuously out your rear.

    On a serious matter, some cyclist do need to learn how to ride properly especially on what are now becoming crowded bike paths. Signalling, doing head checks before changing lanes and using a bell would be a nice start.

  14. pjrob1957

    Good roads were around long before cars and registration on cars was never really about paying for them. This is a false belief many people hold.
    Cars are registered and drivers licenced because motorised transport devices are dangerous.
    Bicycles are not.
    It is unlikely the damage by cars to roads could ever be compensated for by the revenue from rego. I live on a dirt road that is constantly corrugated due only to the effect of tires driven over it at unnecessarily high speed and requires constant grading. The drivers wreck it themselves.

  15. Patriot

    All cyclists should have a cyclist ID tattooed or branded onto their forehead. Motorists should receive a rebate of their vehicle registration fees for every cyclist they render incapable of clogging the roads. Death to cyclists!

  16. David Turner

    My two cents worth
    Car people pay for roads , when there is some cycle paths I’ll be happy to pay for the use of those. Meanwhile keep dodging those crazy impatient drivers.
    Australia could use a few of those “guilt” advertisements showing the cost of knocking off a cyclist. I often wonder if car drivers are not a little mad, dicing with their future by reckless driving around cyclists. Disregard for others is just a human condition, can’t change that.

  17. Dylan Nicholson

    Oops, hadn’t read #6 when I posted that. Any more recent examples?

  18. Dylan Nicholson

    Surely this idea has been trialled somewhere in the world by now?

  19. Stuart K

    Traffic lights:
    Can people please tell me how to trip the induction circuit of the traffic lights with a carbon bike. Currently I have to wait for another car to turn up for the lights to change from red to green.

    We could always go another way and make more roads restricted to cyclists, taxis, buses, and other special permits as required.

    Who really makes 90%+ of all their journeys with 4 or more people in the car? Do you really need a 1 tonne+ vehicle if it’s just you? I would be happy to pay a tax on road use as a cyclist if motorists are also taxed on the same metric. If you think this is a ridiculous notion then google ‘space required to transport 60 people’.

  20. graeme higgins

    Not sure he’s actually thought this through. Is a DJ of course and like hockey goalies he’s probably no Einstein.
    Perhaps cyclists should get a reduction on their car insurance and C3P every time they ride their bicycle?? Percentage ways, I imagine a much higher percentage of motorists disobey the road rules than cyclists do. When cycling you’re in constant danger – it pays to obey.
    Perhaps we should automatically allow a small second car to be covered by the rego of the first big car – thus increasing the sales of cars and reducing the size been used during the week. God, so damn silly. Encourage cyclists!! they’re going a long way to saving the planet.

  21. Stuart Coyle

    Here’s the maths on road damage…
    Damage to roads increases as the fourth power of vehicle mass. If a car weighing 1000kg pays $100 in a year, a bicycle with rider weighing ~100kg (and that is an overestimate) should pay about (100/1000)^4 * 100 = 1c per year.
    (source: http://www.nvfnorden.org/lisalib/getfile.aspx?itemid=261)

  22. Altakoi

    The logic is one of user pays. I don’t have an opinion on registering cyclists, as such, but they would contribute a miniscule amount to road wear and even less to third party costs except as victims. But, if we wanted to have a sliding cost of registration based on car usage that would be really cool. Because then people could offset their car costs against their cycle costs and it would provide an incentive to get people riding on short trips. Vive la user pays, I say.

  23. Harry Becher

    This is a heavily biased article, written by a cyclist for cyclists. To argue that cyclists breaking road laws like obstructing traffic and running red lights aren’t dangerous is irresponsible.

    Children under 12 don’t ride on the road, so that’s irrelevant.

    Australian law is about justice. Motorists need recourse for when they experience or witness dangerous cycling behaviour.

  24. Sharkie

    Just more anti-cyclist dribble from a shock jock. As someone who regularly rides, i can safely say that the greatest threat to my safety on the road comes from the “cave man tribe”. They come in two varieties: angry young men in utes, and angry old men in 2 ton beaten up 4wds.
    No matter how well cyclists behave on the road, muppets like Tom Elliot are impossible to please. The stop sign is the perfect example. If we come to a complete stop, de clip and start again, he’d be sooking about us holding up traffic. If we don’t come to a complete stop and treat the stop sign as a give way, he’d whinge about that too.
    Maybe Elliot needs to pay a little more attention to the fools who toss beer bottles at cyclists, over take us at intersections, and assault people from moving vehicles. 98% of drivers are great, shame Elliot is encouraging the moronic 2%.

  25. ninjacheck

    If the issue is really about compliance to road laws, then motorists are really calling for a licence, not registration. And as someone who does not have a drivers licence and only has a bicycle, I can’t say I’m against the idea if the licence allowed you to ride on the road. For young riders or people learning, maybe I little L-plate and a preference that they use paths as much as possible.

    As for “running red lights”, I’m far more concerned about cars doing this in the CBD during peak hour than a courier doing it because the alternative is being mashed to the curb by a truck and having their ability as well as vehicle for work completely destroyed.

  26. Saugoof

    I grew up in Switzerland, a country that used to have bicycle registration. This mainly paid for third party insurance and was a minimal fee. If I remember, back in the 70’s it was around $5 annually, so in today’s money that would probably be about $20. Anyway, the registration scheme was abolished in the early 80’s mainly because the administration of the scheme alone cost more than the money coming in through registration and the government figured that it would be cheaper to wear the third-party insurance costs through other channels.

    There are a couple of other points that make bike registration a bad idea. First is that registration doesn’t appear to stop car drivers from speeding up at very late orange lights, talking and texting on the phone, or, as in that scary video above, nearly killing someone on purpose. So why would it improve bicycle rider behaviour? But more importantly, there simply isn’t enough room on a bike to attach a registration plate that would actually be visible by anyone in traffic. But even if you were to attach a very impractical giant number plate, it would be ridiculously easy for a rider to just quickly cover the plate as you go through a red light.

  27. Raaraa

    Don’t forget too that if cyclists start paying registration, they’ll start demanding that a more significant percentage of the transportation budget should be allocated to bike infrastructure.

  28. Stevo the Working Twistie

    As a recreational cyclist who can afford it I am in favour of ideas that could enforce better behaviour by all cyclists. Driver attitudes towards riders can at least partly be explained by the poor behaviour of some cyclists (though I really do think a messy death is a bit harsh for the crime of holding up a car for a couple of precious seconds). Unfortunately any scheme like this would unfairly impact families, and the growing numbers of people who use bikes as a serious form of transport because they can’t afford anything else.

  29. hk

    The key question really is: will registration of bicycles (or their owners as users) contribute to making an integrated urban land-use and transport system safer when measured by fatalities attributed to the transportation system operation per annum?

  30. Wexford

    Given that there would be an infentisimally small number of cyclists who don’t own a car, they are already paying registration. Knowing this, when riding their bike they are causing less wear and tear on the infrastructure, and taking up less space on the roads.

    Therefore cyclists should receive a subsidiy on their car registration!

    Of course, that’s just as cost-ineffective to administer as any bike registration fee, so let’s just put the original article down to the usual motorist politics.

  31. Raaraa

    If we go down this path, should we also get pedestrians to register?

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