Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Questions for anyone proposing cyclist registration

Again, we have someone mandating compulsory cyclist registration, though this time it isn't someone dialling in to a daytime local radio channel, or adding comments in the bottom of some local daily-mail substitute paper in a classic newspaper columnist unpunctuated sentence that even Joyce would avoid:  "all cyclists should be licensed and have an MOT and have third party insurance and mandatory helmets and hi viz and use cycle paths and keep out of the way of cars" in those

This time, it is an EU MEP, Nikki Sinclaire MEP.

Apparently the cycle lobby has been insulting and using "silly" examples like wheelchairs and scooters.

Here then: no insults, no silly examples. Merely simple questions about execution.


  1. A law is being written that will require all UK residents who wish to cycle to be registered, with their registration number on hi-viz. These questions below look beyond the headline to "implementation details"
  2. Bicycle registration, "MOTs", and tax disks are ignored.
  3. Britain is still part of the EU
  4. A independent Scotland may exist; if so it is part of the EU
  5. At the time this legislation is proposed, a national ID card does not exist.

Section 1: Nationality

Will visitors from other EU countries be allowed to cycle in the UK without being registered?


  1. how will this be legal within the framework of a EU legal system which already recognises EU drivers licenses and vehicles within the UK? 
  2. Will it become illegal to cycle across the border for Ireland to NI without paperwork, or perhaps soon, over the Tweed from Scotland to Berwick-upon-tweed?

YES: how will you distinguish EU visitors from UK residents? Passports?

Passport-based exemptionIf you use passports to recognise who is allowed to cycle without registration -how will you handle UK residents with other EU passports -in particular the millions with/eligible for Irish passports (nearly everyone in Northern Ireland?)
No checks:
How do you stop any UK citizen who qualifies for an Irish or (soon) scottish passport can get one and so cycle without hi viz?
UK Citizens must be registered, even if dual national. How do you prevent someone rejecting their UK citizenship and yet remaining resident due to their Irish/Scottish residency rights?
Check against list of UK residents:  Require all Irish/Scottish citizens living in the UK to register for one. This implies the roll-out of a national ID card to track all UK residents, otherwise it would probably be illegal.

The implication here is that significant controls will be needed on EU nationals being resident in the UK, with an ID card and tracking for all UK residents needed to distinguish visitors from residents. 

Section 2: Age

Will children be required to be registered?

YES: age limited.
This implies at a specific child's birthday they will be required to register and start wearing hi-viz. How will this be enforced? Will police be required to stop children who look "too old" and ask them for ID? If so: requires national ID card. 

YES: "kid's bikes are exempt"
Implies a rigorous definition of "Kid's bike"

  • Small wheeled bikes only: adults folding bikes will be exempt, kids bikes with 26" wheels will require registration -and police to be able to recognise wheel sizes.
  • Frame size: at what point will frame size transition from "small adult" to "large child" take place? 
  • Child's bikes marked at point of sale: fails to address existing fleet of bicycles
The implication here is that there is too much ambiguity unless it is 100% mandatory for all children to be registered

Section 3: Access restrictions

Where must cyclists be registered before they can cycle?

Public Roads: Unless private roads are included OR clearly marked, how will you will differentiate public roads from private roads. 

Private Roads: How to distinguish "private road" from "driveway" or "garden path"? Implies registration is required to cycle on any private property. IF not, issue of distinguishing from public & private road arises.

Public shared use pavements: Again,  how to distinguish this from private shared-use pavements

Public parks: if not, again, requires distinguishing from private grounds to which public access is granted.

Royal parks: see above.

Bridleways across private land?  if yes, implies mandatory registration/hi-viz across private land. If not, implies private land to be clearly distinguished from public land, even in wilderness areas. 

BOATs and RUPPs: Yes: unless Bridleways also require mandatory registration, will need some way to distinguish these from Bridleways. No: need a way to distinguish BOATs from public roads.

Schools and hospitals. These are state owned properties with access restrictions. Would they be private land or public land? 

MoD land: example -much of Salisbury plain? 

Canals: property of British Waterways.

Council paths on council land: if mandatory, will need to include council parks

The implication here is that there is too much ambiguity unless it is 100% mandatory for anyone to cycle -anywhere, even on private land and their own driveway- without registration and hi-viz.  

Section 4: Roll out

How would this be rolled out? 

Personal application without ID. There would be no way to prevent fraud and someone applying for more than one, hence being able to ignore penalties

Personal application for registration with ID: implies all UK residents who wish to cycle must have some form of photo ID. Drivers licenses would not cover any children, nor any adults without them. Passports are not ubiquitous. The only 100% available document would be a birth certificate -however northern ireland and scottish certificates are managed independently from English & Welsh, so validating these is hard and expensive.

This also requires proof of residence to stop someone registering with a false address -and so being unreachable for any enforcement

By post without ID: Acquiring multiple registrations in false/stolen names just got simpler

By Post with ID: Add cost and logistics of securely managing ID postal.

The implication here is that a national ID would be the only effective way to manage to roll out.

How would a lost registration hi-viz top be dealt with?  User receives new top with new number. Old one "invalidated". Police now required to stop cyclists to verify that they are not cycling with a stolen hi-viz top. 

Section 4: Cost of execution

How would this be funded? 

  1. General Tax: is there anything better that could be done with the money
  2. One-off registration fee:  How much would it have to be to not only cover one-off costs of registration, but all ongoing costs of enforcement? 
  3. Annual registration fee: If someone says "they no longer cycle" how will this be verified? Will the police be required to stop cyclists with hi-viz to verify they are current with their registration?

What will the costs of verifying cyclist registration be? 
This includes:

  • stop and checks that a teenager cycling without hi-viz is above the mandatory registration threshold.
  • stop and check that someone cycling with a hi-viz top is using their own top and not one that is stolen, found or fraudulently acquired. Again, implies national ID card of some form
  • costs of stopping adults who are cycling without hi viz and confirming that they are EU nationals who have the right to do so
  • costs of stopping and verifying that anyone cycling is not a cyclist who has their registration revoked 

Although it would seem simple "stop anyone without the hi-viz top", the need to identify revoked and fraudulent registration would imply a regular stopping of anyone cycling. Unless EU nationals -including visitors -were somehow mandated to also carry a top, it would become impossible to distinguish EU national from single-nationality UK citizen. In inner cities -especially London- there would be too many EU nationals to stop

Will costs include enforcement costs of inevitable protests and civil disobedience?

The police operational of mildly controversial issues such as badger culling turned out to massively increase the costs of the operation -the same for protested road building exercises.

A national roll-out of a cycle registration is likely to be the most controversial event in modern cycling history (possibly ever) and the opposition to it will be national. Unless these costs are correctly predicted and included in the cost models, they will be underestimated and come out of general police funding.

Will costs include impact of mass cycling protest in city centres at rush hours? 

Cycling protests will be guaranteed to be held at the most dramatic times of day, which implies nationwide protests in city centres designed to bring the cities to a halt at peak hours. How will the indirect cost of such protests be measured and included in any cost/benefit analyses?

Will mass gatherings by cyclists be made illegal?

Blatant acts of junction blocking would be accompanied by legal protests such as mass groups cycling at 5 miles an hour down key roads in the cities, including dual carriageways and roundabouts -the latter where the same group can cycle round repeatedly.

Mass gatherings of cyclists is currently legal.

Such protests would only be preventable by introducing laws restricting the number of cyclists that may gather in groups, how many times they can cycle round a roundabout or which roads they can cycle on. Even then, how would you distinguish a group of cyclists merely commuting on the same roads from a mass protest?

Section 4: Political Cost of execution

Do politicians want to deal with the backlash?

While the proposal may garner support from local radio phone-ins, during the period in which the legislation is being passed some of the largest ever mass protests by cyclists ever.

This would also bring them out to form some of the most co-ordinated political campaigns to convince politicians not to vote for the legislation.

It is also likely to encourage active campaigns against the re-election of any politician who voted for the legislation -irrespective of whether or not the vote was passed. Parties supporting such a vote via any form of whip would find all MPs experiencing the same backlash.

The closest equivalent is potentially the Countryside Alliance campaign, except they were not represented in the high-population constituencies around the country. Any cycling campaign would focus on the cities, and, in EU elections, actively campaign against MEPs who supported the plans.

Will revocation of the legislation be a manifesto item in future elections?

Given the inevitable backlash, it is likely that revocation of the legislation would be a manifesto item for the parties in opposition at the time the legislation was passed.

As such, the lifespan of the law is likely to be 5-10 years. Given the cost of rollout, it is hard to justify.


  1. A national ID card may be requiredd. Indeed, the cyclist registration may become that national ID card
  2. Unless the UK withdraws from the EU it is likely to be impossible to prevent EU nationals from cycling without registration. Even if it does, Irish and Scottish citizens cycling in Britain will be exempt unless there is a strict policy that requires a "guest registration" for all visitors, 
  3. The ambiguities about age ranges for children imply the cutoff date would probably be about 8-10, but even then enforcement would be impossible unless children were required to carry an ID card. Mandating registration across all age rages would be simpler
  4. The ambiguities about public vs private land would only be resolved by mandating that one cannot cycle without registration and hi-viz even on private land. That would likely to include one's own driveway. 
  5. The costs of execution -including enforcement and handling protest would not be covered by a one-off fee -yet per-year fees hard and expensive to implement.
  6. The indirect costs of mass protest on peak hours would not be reclaimable and potentially very damaging to the UK economy.
  7. Legislation may be needed to prevent mass gatherings of cyclists at peak hours
  8. The political costs of supporting the legislation would be high -and the law likely to be rescinded at the next election.


  1. What about indoor cycling? Will cyclists in a velodrome needs registration?

    What about professional cycling events? Will these cyclists be exempt from registration? (I'm not a big Formula 1 fan but I don't think these cars have registration plates as they whizz around Silverstone...)

    If professional events are exempt, what is the definition of a professional event?

  2. Conclusions
    unenforceable totally ludicrous idea so only of use to:
    1. Posturing from sad politicians wanting some clickbait/media action
    2. Neanderthal drivers desperate not to share roadspace so invent pipedream wishes to dissuade people getting on bikes

  3. Not so long ago, an MEP somewhere in the UK was proposing mandatory registration and licencing of all motorcycles and riders to clamp-down on anti-social behaviour. His plan had very similar flaws to this proposal, mostly due to similar levels of ignorance.

  4. A complete failure of recognition of the relative hazard caused by a 2 Tonne vehicle compared to a 6 Kg bike. Of course we all know the hidden agenda is about attacking a minority group and has very little to do with common sense.
    These people often feel under attack as motorists and the easiest defence is to deflect the argument by attacking cyclists. Generally armed with a crackpot idea and usually backed up with some odd antidote.
    No serious political party would take these ideas seriously, but they are trying to appeal to what they feel is a majority or at least a sizable minority of people who are pro-car and anti-cycling. Its no surprise its generally the far right wing that go in for this sort of thing.