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License to Ride... Continued

To Fee or Not to Fee
That is the question. Almost universally, advocates and regular cyclists alike are vehemently opposed to requiring bicyclists to obtain an operator’s permit equal to that issued to motor vehicle drivers. The question arises when frustration with cyclists is running high, and/or when somebody feels as though their God-granted access to road and country is being threatened. The most frequently cited reason for proposing an operator’s permit is to help pay for the system. In fact, most funding for building local facilities comes from sales, property, and municipality taxes. Licensing bicyclists creates another barrier in a transportation system that already heavily favors travel by car.

Requiring that bicycles by registered is a little bit more complicated. The reason most frequently cited for requiring registration is to aid the recovery and return of stolen bikes. In some cases, the fees generated by the system actually go towards putting in more bicycle facilities. In the majority of cases, the fees don’t even cover the cost of implementing and maintaining the system. There have been reports of police harassment, and it does provide an additional barrier to getting more people on bikes. Some police departments don’t even maintain a list of the registration numbers and therefore can’t return the bike if it has been stolen! If the number of bikes in an area is sufficiently high, the rate of return of stolen bikes can be significant. There are a number of websites that will register your bike’s serial number for you (usually for a small fee). The only problem with this system is that you must rely on the local police department to know that such systems exist and that they should check them. Most recovered bikes end up being auctioned off, sold for scrap, or donated to recycled bike programs.
So here are my final thoughts. If there is a proposal to license cyclists (obtain an operator’s permit), fight it! Alert your local advocacy organization and have them plug in to any of the organizations listed below. If there is a proposal to require registration of bicycles, check to see what services are really offered with the registration. If they’re substandard, work with your local advocacy group to strengthen what you get for your money. Who knows? If your bike is stolen, there is a very small chance that you might get it back!

Thanks to everyone at the following organizations who helped me out by sharing research and data: Thunderhead Alliance (, Marin County Bicycle Coalition (, members of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (, Transportation Alternatives (, and the City of Davis, California.

 About the Author

David Hoffman

David has been involved with bicycle advocacy for the past seven years. He founded Bike Pittsburgh in 2002 and still serves on the Advisory Board. From there David worked for the Thunderhead Alliance, the national coalition of local and state bicycle and pedestrian organizations. Currently, David works for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and serves on the Board of Directors of the California Bicycle Coalition.

A refugee from Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley traffic, David got tired of sitting in his car four hours a day and decided to begin cycling to work. Now practically car-free, David enjoys watching others sit in traffic.