Advocacy, Highlighted

Don’t be fooled: Bicycle registration laws are bad

Don’t be fooled. Bicycle registration laws are pointless, expensive, and unjust. Asheville on Bikes opposes bicycle registration laws and similar bicycle license schemes. You should oppose them too, whether you ride a bike or not.

If you love long DMV lines and eroding customer service, by all means, add silly registration laws to the books.

This post was prompted by North Carolina House Bill 157, a proposed 2019 state law that would require a statewide bicycle registration scheme with fees and penalties. We oppose this law and urge you to write your state representative and call on them to do the same. You can read the NC house bill, with updates as they occur, by clicking here or you can download an archived copy of H157 v1, as a pdf.

Here is the list of reasons bicycle registration laws are a bad idea. Click any reason to jump to the full explanation:

  1. Bicycle registration laws don’t work.
  2. These laws lose money because it costs the state money to collect the tax.
  3. Laws like HB 157 are a slap in the face to your constituents.
  4. Bicycle registration will overwhelm the DMV and result in long lines for all.
  5. Bicycle registration and licensing will result in racial discrimination.
  6. It will decrease cycling, if enforced.
  7. The effects of this law are counter to economic development work in the region.
  8. It does not improve our ability to enforce our current road laws or resolve conflicts.
  9. It makes just a much sense as a shoe tax.
  10. Bicycle license laws violate all of the guidelines for “What makes a good law.”
  11. It perpetuates a “pay to play” myth regarding use of our taxes.
  12. Laws requiring licenses should be based on the likelihood of causing harm to others.
  13. This law creates no meaningful revenue that could benefit bicycle riders.
  14. It is foolish to allow a conflict between users on one single rural road to be used as grounds for regulating every cyclist in the state.
  15. Your representative may think proposing a law like this is a harmless way to appease a constituent. It’s not.

Taken as a whole, this list of reasons creates a very high burden of proof to overcome for anyone who claims that bicycle registration schemes have any place in our body of regulatory laws. The resulting burden is high enough that laws like HB 157 should not even be proposed “by request” in order to appease a constituent.

    1. Bicycle registration laws don’t work. As per CityLab and other reports, and including even more reports, these laws have failed in Hawaii, Houston, Seattle, San Diego,  Chicago, Detroit, and Fort Lauderdale, just to name a few.
    2. These laws usually result in a direct loss of revenue. The cost of administering these laws is almost always greater than the fees collected and, as proposed, the cost of collecting the fees would certainly be a net loss to the state. The silliest taxes of all are the ones that cost us more money to collect than they bring in, which is the situation proposed by this law.

      Click here when you are ready to do something about HB 157.

    3. Laws like HB 157 are a slap in the face to your constituents.  If you are an elected official, bicycle registration laws are a slap in the face to your constituents. Consider Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, who represents the NC 94th District, which includes the residents of Wilkesboro and Wilkes County. Because of the economic benefits of bicycling, money is flowing into the community both from bicycle riders who live in the community and from those who come to Wilkesboro to use the critically acclaimed Dark Star trail network at Kerr Scott Reservoir, the lovely Yadkin River Greenway, and for bicycle rides along the roads of the Blue Ridge mountains. Just like other North Carolina communities, these amenities exist because locals want to safely explore the outdoors, including with the use of a bicycle. Why should a handful of people – or even one, if you read the reasons Elmore proposed this bill – be allowed to potentially decrease bicycling in the entire state of North Carolina, contrary to the actual work of many people in the same communities?  When asked about who requested this specific bill, “Elmore said [the requestor] was a resident of the Brushy Mountain community concerned about safety issues related to the large number of cyclists on Brushy Mountain Road in that community.” Link. This bill is a discredit to the time, energy, and money that have gone into the existing amenities in Rep. Elmore’s district, like the Yadkin River Greenway.
    4. Bicycle registration will overwhelm the DMV and result in long lines for all, because a statewide registration system would have to be administered through the department of transportation and their local offices in your area. If you love long lines and eroding customer service, by all means, add silly registration laws to the books. But we don’t love long lines at the DMV or poor customer service and we oppose this law.
    5. Bicycle registration and licensing will result in racial discrimination. A significant portion of the population rides bikes; of those, a sizable chunk ride out of necessity. This includes people of color, children, and low income families. These groups are the least likely to be able to register a bike and the most likely to be ticketed for that failure. In Fort Lauderdale, FL, a bicycle registration scheme was selectively enforced so that it disproportionately affect the city’s African American residents, including impounding bikes so that the bike rider was stranded miles from his or her destination.

      Click here when you are ready to do something about HB 157.

    6. It will decrease cycling, if enforced. The basic laws of supply and demand explain that, if you make something more difficult and more expensive to do, fewer people do it. This has worked well for cigarette smoking, where taxation makes that habit more expensive and thus discourages new people from adopting the habit. Is cycling similar to cigarette use? Should we discourage the habit of riding bikes?
    7. The effects of this law are counter to economic development work in the region and in the state. The state and other regional entities conduct significant economic development work to promote the outdoor industry. In Western North Carolina alone, cycling generates more than $43 million each year and directly employs thousands, between bicycle manufacturers, bike shops, bike events (hat tip to Lenoir, NC), bicycle tourism, summer camps who teach bike riding, bicycle rentals, and other related industries. The state of North Carolina recently hired our first director for the Outdoor Industry Recruitment Office; the Outdoor Industry, which includes bicycling, is an $28 billion dollar industry in our state (OIA 2017 Report). Are we to pass a bill that has the exact opposite effect of our other work, and allow our left hand to contradict our right hand?
    8. It does not improve our ability to enforce our current road laws or resolve conflicts. Law enforcement officers can enforce all applicable laws today as they pertain to a bicycle rider on a public road. Law enforcement officers have no need of a bicycle registration system in order to do so (or even the much lower requirement, rejected in the past, that bike riders carry identification). This is well documented at the state level by the NC 232 Bicycle Law Study Committee and this law goes against the conclusions of that report.

      Click here when you are ready to do something about HB 157.

    9. It makes about as much sense as a shoe tax, to make up revenue for all the infrastructure that pedestrians are demanding. Do pedestrians make you a little upset, with the way they move into your path when you are driving? Aren’t those people who walk asking for too much, really, when they complain about “unsafe” conditions? Why don’t we require a shoe licensing system and let those who choose to use footwear in the public right of way pay a fee to do so? The fee can be used to build amenities for those who choose to walk. We can also push for our law enforcement officers to begin occasional shoe registration checks on sidewalks to cut down on those scofflaws who continue exhibiting dangerous walking habits in our public right of way…
    10. Bicycle license laws violate all of the guidelines for “What makes a good law.” These are ideas that we can say “yes” to when we write a proposed law, whether we are voters, lawyers, advocates, legislative staffers, or elected officials. Good laws share these 5 traits:
      • Fairness – justice and equality, such as equal pay for men and women. This law would create inequality. Ex: low income road users who cannot afford cars would  experience an increase in ticketing.
      • Usefulness – making society run smoothly, such as laws on driving to make roads safer. Ex: This law does not change or improve law enforcement’s ability to enforce the laws regarding road usage. Law enforcement can enforce current road laws easily by detaining and ticketing any cyclist or other road user violating current laws.
      • Common good – not just supporting the interests of particular groups, such as the wealthy. Ex: It is obvious that this law places a new burden on only one group, bicycle riders.
      • Enforceability – the majority are willing to obey them, police are able to catch those who break them. Ex: Would a majority of bicycle owners obey this law?  Consider that every bicycle in your garage, if ridden by someone 16 years or older, would require you to go to the DMV and obtain a registration before you can legally use it again. If police ignore bicycle licensing because they correctly prioritize other more serious violations of the law as more important to enforce, what is the point?
      • Simple – easy to understand and to obey, not too complicated. If this law is intended to work, it is going to be quite complicated. Ex: Owners with 10 bikes? City owned fleets bike share bikes? What is a bike – does a electric trike for the disabled count? Does a motorized scooter count, an ebike, a one-wheel, a motorized skateboard? What about summer camps ($157 million annual economic impact in just Western NC) with fleets of bikes that get used for 10 weeks in the summer? What of a stroller that converts to a bicycle? An Elliptigo? What if I have a prescription from my doctor? What if my adult neighbor borrows my teenagers’ bmx bike to ride to the convenience store? Why stop at two wheeled human powered vehicles? What of the tourists arriving from out of state for a weekend, with a bicycle on their car?
      • These principles are taught in many law school curriculums, civics lessons, and training programs for legislative staff. Source link.
    11. It perpetuates a “pay to play” myth where we pretend that fees and taxes should be earmarked for individual projects, when the opposite is usually true. Drivers do not pay for the full costs roads and auto-oriented amenities they use; nor do national park usage fees pay for the costs of having national parks.

      Click here when you are ready to do something about HB 157.

    12. Laws requiring licenses should be based on the likelihood of causing harm to others. Laws requiring licenses and registrations should not be based on a desire to create a new funding source or control a portion of the population. Thus we register our cars and obtain a license to drive because cars are deadly when misused. Bike riders are not deadly to others and should not be required to register.
    13. This law creates no meaningful revenue that could benefit bicycle riders. A number of bicycle riders have pointed out that we have very little roadway space dedicated to biking or non-auto use, and that a registration scheme could perhaps create revenue to begin building infrastructure at a faster rate to meet that need. Again, don’t be fooled. Even if the fees were increased so that actual revenue was generated, the resulting pool of money would be tiny and unable to build significant amounts of the infrastructure our state needs. Bicycle registration as a dedicated funding source is a red herring.

      Click here when you are ready to do something about HB 157.

    14. It is foolish to allow a conflict between users on one single rural road to be used as grounds for regulating every cyclist in the state. Citizens in one part of North Carolina do not have the right to discriminate, via limits on road usage, against citizens from another part of North Carolina when the road is a state road. Even though the registration scheme described in HB 157 does not directly propose such discrimination, the reason given for the scheme was user conflict between bicycle riders and drivers who both use Brushy Mountain Road in Wilkes County. Brushy Mountain Road is a state road, built and maintained by NCDOT. Thus it does not belong to the nearby property owner who complained. NCDOT roads are paid for by the people of North Carolina, who each have equal right to the roadway. Perhaps a better solution would be to have the three affected groups meet together and discuss local solutions: bicycle riders in Wilkes county, complaining property owners, and NCDOT staff. That work is a more reasonable approach to a local issue than proposing a burdensome and unwanted statewide license scheme applicable to all bicycle riders. “In 2015, the Wilkes County commissioners approved removing Brushy Mountain, Lithia Springs, Vannoy Ridge and Ball’s Mill roads from online maps showing Wilkes bicycle routes to discourage out-of-county cyclists from riding on the Brushies.” Riding in the Brushies does look nice. The route shows up clearly if you examine Strava’s Global Heatmap of cycling use in Wilkes County. Several other parts of Wilkes County appear to be getting regular use from bicycle riders as well. Might all that biking activity be generating revenue, saving on health care costs, and reducing automobile pollution?

      Red indicates frequent cycling use. The city at the top is Wilkesboro, NC.
    15. Your representative may think proposing a law like this is a harmless way to appease a constituent. It’s not. “By request” means a bill has been filed on behalf of a constituent and may mean the sponsor (In this case, State Rep. Jeffrey Elmore) does not fully agree with the bill. Our elected representatives should carefully consider whether appearing foolish in public is worth it before filing a “by request” bill.
      • Only a small portion of the public understands that “by request” can mean, “that the sponsor is introducing the measure as a favor to someone not in Congress…It sometimes means the sponsor does not fully agree with the bill.Link.
      • Because this particular bill received widespread media coverage, and because that coverage did not adequately explain the negative consequences of such a law, filing this bill has already had a detectable propaganda-like effect in North Carolina. The rash of news stories normalizes the idea of bicycle registration and needlessly inflames the tired debate between drivers and bicycle riders. It would be wise for Representative Elmore to publicly back away from this proposal and we are a little sad to see this “by request” bill manipulated to create statewide news stories. It used to be that “by request” proposals could die a more silent legislative death.
This is what sloppy news coverage looks like in the search results.

Please link to this page anytime someone mentions a bicycle registration law in the U.S. Feel free to comment below and add relevant ideas to this discussion. Bicycle registration laws are pointless, expensive, and unjust.

Call to action: Please take two simple steps to help build better bicycle infrastructure and stop this bill.

1. Sign on to Bike Walk NC’s petition that requests an end to NC’s prohibition against state funding for stand alone bicycle and pedestrian projects. Unlike the proposed HB157, lifting this prohibition would create a stable source of funds to build a meaningful amount of bike and pedestrian projects in our state. Identify Asheville on Bikes as your “Organizational Affiliation.”

2. Write your state house representative and use two or three of the ideas from this blog post to point out the flaws of HB 157. Ask your representative to oppose this and any similar future attempt to create a bicycle registration system. Click this link to find your representative, find their email address, and send them an email. Please CC: ashevilleonbikes@gmail.com on your letter so that we can keep a record of your emails for use during our state lobby day each year.

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19 comments

  1. If that means bicycles are treated as first-class citizens on the roads, bring it on. I’ll gladly pay.

  2. Jason,
    Did you even bother to read this before posting?
    Are you the troll cyclists are supposed to pay to access the roads we already have every legal right to use?

  3. We do pay for them. We all pay the same taxes and 90% of cyclists have a (taxed) car sitting in the driveway. It’s about impact. My body and my bike weigh 170 pounds, on one-inch tires. How much does your car weigh, on four larger tires?

    Cyclists have long over-paid for their impact:

    In 2011 (the latest data available) U.S. governments spent $206 billion on roads and
    motorists drove 2,946 billion miles, so roadway costs averaged about 7.0¢ per mile
    (FHWA 2012). During that same year motorists paid $127 billion in road user fees, which
    averages 4.3¢ per mile – the remaining 2.7¢ spent on roads is from general taxes. A
    typical motorist who drives 12,000 annual miles imposes $840 in roadway costs, pays
    $516 in roadway user fees and $224 in general taxes spent on roadways. Non-drivers tend
    to travel less, people who rely primarily on bicycling for transportation typically ride 3 to
    6 miles per day or 1,000 to 2,000 annually. If their costs are an order of magnitude
    smaller than automobile travel (0.7¢ per mile), a typical cyclist imposes $7 to $14 in
    roadway costs, and pays $224 in general taxes toward roadways, a significant
    overpayment.

    Although motor vehicle user fees fund a major share of state highway expenses, local
    roads, the roads that pedestrians and cyclists use most, are mainly funded through general
    taxes that residents pay regardless of how they travel.

    Source: http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf

  4. Don’t worry this is never going to pass anyway. I’m sure there are plenty of people like me that still wouldn’t register their bikes regardless. Granted most of my riding is done in remote areas, but whatever. I’m not doing it lol

  5. I live in N.Y. and I think this bill is as ridiculous as our gun laws that these moron legislators pass. I do not support this bill. I planned on moving to Asheville but now have second thoughts. Hard to believe that some people are willing to pay to ride. What’s up with those idiots. Must be Liberal Democrats.

  6. Joe, We agree that this law is a really bad idea. Don’t let that color your opinion of the whole area though. We published this post to make it very clear that bicycle registration laws have no place in NC.

  7. Sharing my letter to Rep. Ager for Buncombe County if you would like to send him an email without having to spend much time writing it:

    —-

    Representative Ager,

    Please consider my input as a constituent in Buncombe County.

    I am writing to express my hope that you will vote NO on NC House Bill 157. I have listed my reasoning below for your review.

    The vast majority (over 90%) of people on bicycles are recreational riders and already pay registration fees and taxes on their primary vehicle.

    The outdoor sports industry, cycling included, was recently evaluated by the BEA to account for 2% (or $373.7 billion) of the entire US Gross Domestic Product and is growing at a faster rate than our overall economy.

    WNC has a significant bicycle tourism industry that contributes significantly to the local economy. Those tourism dollars would be directly impacted, if not killed overnight. Consider this: Would you want to travel to an area to ride bikes (owned or rented from a local bike shop) in Pisgah National Forest or on the Blue Ridge Parkway if they were at risk of being fined? The ripple effect extends beyond bike shops. Consider local area businesses, including Asheville’s beloved breweries, restaurants, shops, etc. that would lose out.

    For those in our community who rely on bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, a seemingly small registration fee and/or fine to you or I could be the determining factor on whether or not they can put food on the table. I simply couldn’t have that on my conscience.

    Furthermore, our legislation should be encouraging more people to ride bicycles for better health, more awareness and stewardship of our scenic byways and national forests, fewer cars on the road (ie: less congestion in downtown Asheville,) and reduced carbon emissions.

    Our community and our state can do better than HB 157.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  8. This is an incredibly short-sighted idea. Through tourism, bike shops, and local riders, cycling brings tens of millions of dollars to NC, especially the western part of the state. A bill like this would make the hassle of bike riding extremely high, effectively destroying the cycling-related economy. Also, the more people who bike the less cars they’ll be on the road, which benefits drivers. Additionally, the supposed impact of bike riding on roads is minuscule compared to a car’s. A bike is roughly 1/100th the weight of a typical car, and doesn’t leak oil or make potholes worse. It’s also hard to imagine that the fees generated from this registration mandate would cover the amount of tax revenue required to fund the DMV’s expansion. Finally, bike riders already pay for road maintenance through their taxes. The vast majority of cyclists own cars, and all of them pay federal taxes.

    I agree that some cyclists are reckless and have no regard for the law. They hurt all cyclists and deserve to be called out, and, if appropriate, reprimanded. But the solution is to step up enforcement for bad behavior, not punish all cyclists. (The same applies to reckless drivers.) This will send a message that cyclists must follow traffic laws, and may potentially create more income streams for the government, much like cracking down on bad driving results in better driving habits in a community.

    The bottom line is that is bad for NC cyclists, businesses, and drivers. There is no redeeming value to this sort of law

  9. Thank you Heather. Your letter is well written and we appreciate that you took the time to send it and post it here. Great example!

    The Citizen Times wrote a story about this law last week, pdf version linked here: “NC bike bill to require cyclists to register or face fines

    That story quotes several of our local politicians, and their comments demonstrate how important it is to send letters like Heather’s, wherever you are in the state.

  10. Hey Joe, from this bike riding liberal Democrat: hang tight in NY bro. We’re all full up down here. Great letter Heather. I appreciate the blog from AoB on what to say if you choose to write congress (please do!) This idea is just pandering in every way. Another supposed revenue stream that will be poorly orchestrated, selectively enforced and punitive to the very people trying to make roads more accessible to non-carbon commuters ~ cyclists! Thanks AoB for staying on it!

  11. Great work AoB! Thank you so much for this insightful resource. I do have to criticize the “long lines at DMV” point though, as I feel it is sort of a stretch. It is an easy target for naysayers to dismiss the other 14 perfectly valid, and much more important points. It has little to do with the intent of the proposed law (or why we would oppose any such registration law), and doesn’t make for a good argument. Thanks again for all the hard work on this and everything else!

  12. Brandon, thank you! You know, you’re right about the DMV point being, relative to the rest, a weaker point (though still true, and the law specifies visit a local DMV office to register). And we updated the image on this post to reflect that it contains 15 reasons. 🙂

  13. This is another example of one of the many dumb things I hear each day. Do you all really love socialism? You already pay for the roads through your taxes so why are you willing to give even more of your hard earned money to an inefficient and malevolent government?

  14. Thank you for your comment Chris. You are pointing out something that is true, which is that a broad coalition exists in opposition to this bill. One of the best things anyone can do, after emailing your local house representative and asking them to oppose laws like this one, is to link to this post. We want this post to stick and show in the future, when the next person starts researching bicycle registration bills. So please link to this URL from your own websites, friends!

  15. Many of You Forgot about Gas TAX funding roads… Changes the entire formula you used !! Also.. Since you talk about fairness & impacting the Lower income people , Who use them as Primary Transportation… Where the Hell were you when NC passed Moped Registration/Tags/Titles ?? (BTW.. The Pols Swore that it WAS NOT going to lead to Insurance or Licencing.. When they HAD ALREADY PASSED THE INSURANCE BILL !!)

  16. Ernest,

    Thank you for the comment. Though we are pretty clear about advocating for things involving a bicycle, we take your point about sticking up for lower income neighbors, fairness, and how laws impact the people who use our roads. As to the gas tax, we disagree, and noted in this post that gas taxes do not pay for roads – perhaps 70% of the cost of our roads comes from non-gas tax sources, like income taxes and property taxes. That statistic is here: https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/regulation/gas-tax-little-road-costs/ And you can read even more here: https://www.google.com/search?&q=gas+taxes+don%27t+pay+for+roads.

  17. I think bike registration good idea. Continually seeing bikers breaking bike rules on the road. Bicyclist should pay registration fees and safy course regulated by the DMV and pay fines for breaking the bikes rules just like cars. The registration of bikes will bring funds for bike paths as well. As for the long lines at DMV is false for registration of bikes can be done online now. Overall, having the bike registration and bikers required safety courses regulated by the DMV will make it safer for both bikers and automobiles that share the road.

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