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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Making Responsible Bicyclists Through Licensing is a Non-Starter

When discussing bicycling in the city, oftentimes we'll hear people say things like "cyclists should be required to get a license" (along with following the rules of the road and paying for infrastructure).  At last month's SFCTA-CAC meeting, one of the members asked about bicycle licensing as a way to make cyclist more responsible for their actions on the road.

SFCTA staff responded to this request, writing,
A 2009 SFMTA memo found state code does not authorize local jurisdictions to license bicyclists (the operators of bicycles), however state code allows local jurisdictions the option of requiring registration of bicycles.

The memo stated the following challenges to develop a local bicyclist licensing program: 
  • Would require state legislation to amend the CVC. (This would also open up the issue of whether licenses need to be required for bicyclists under 18) 
  • Would only apply to residents, while many non-resident cyclists visit SF 
  • Would be a disincentive to travel by bike, and the user fees needed to run the program would discourage bicycle use 
  • Bicycling community would not support such a program
Although the memo was written in 2009, the findings are still relevant, and SFMTA staff has stated there is no current initiative to license bicyclists in San Francisco.

The city had a bicycle licensing program (voluntary registration), but the program became defunct as it was not cost-effective. Other less costly and more effective registration, such as the National Bike Registry, is available. Also, a collaboration between SAFE and the SFPD has launched a new local voluntary bike registration program (http://safebikes.org/)

Proponents of bicycle/bicyclist registration say fees from such programs can be used to fund bicycle infrastructure improvements. Licensing and registration programs are challenging to implement. However CA SB 1183 has been introduced to allow local jurisdictions the option of imposing a sales tax on bicycles, and to use the tax revenues for improvements to paved and natural trails.

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