On Monday (12 April), Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat announced that the Active Mobility Advisory Panel will review the safety rules for cyclists and look into the possibility of implementing a registration system for bicycles and ensuring that cyclists take up a license.
Speaking to the press at the Land Transport Authority (LTA) headquarters, Mr Chee said that the panel may consider the possibility of requiring cyclists to take a theory test, similar to the requirements in place for users of personal mobility devices (PMDs) and electric bicycles.
Mr Chee had noted in his announcement that other countries with a high volume of cyclists such as the Netherlands have not seen the need for the registration of bicycles or licensing of cyclists.
“Instead they use other ways to ensure safety, but it is a proposal that the panel can look at as part of the overall review of our existing rules, and see whether such a move, overall, is good for Singapore,” said Mr Chee.
“While we do this, it’s important that we do so in a balanced and fair manner, because we don’t want to inadvertently end up discouraging cycling,” he added, highlighting the mission of making Singapore’s transport network more environmentally friendly as the nation heads towards a car-lite future.
The proposal to get cyclists to obtain a road license is not new. In 2013, then-Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah had proposed that cyclists be required to take lessons on road safety before they are licensed by the LTA to cycle on roads.
Then in 2016, the LTA said that it was studying the licensing of cyclists and bicycles carefully but that there were “practical difficulties” in ensuring that users regularly update their licenses.
Lack of road safety compliance behind possibility of implementing cyclist licensing requirements in S’pore, says Senior Minister Transport Chee Hong Tat
Most recently, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching took to Facebook on 2 Apr to call for all bicycles and PMDs in Singapore to be registered, adding that these registered vehicles should come with third party insurance and licensed riders.
“Register all bicycles and PMDs like we register cars and buses. All registered bicycles and PMDs should come with 3rd party insurance,” she said.
She added, “License riders as well separately, like the way we license drivers of trucks and vans.”
She said this after local actor Tay Ping Hui shared a video of how cyclists cut his lane while he was driving.
In his own Facebook post, Mr Tay, who is also a cyclist, said that the incident occurred on 31 Mar at around 9.35 pm, where several cyclists appeared from the left side of the road and made a turn into his lane.
Despite the actor’s attempt to flash his headlights when he was approaching closely behind them, the cyclists did not budge forcing Mr Tay to “jam on the brakes to avoid killing them”. As such, Mr Tay suggested registering all bicycles in Singapore with small visible license plate mounted to the vehicle.
Unsurprisingly, this particular suggestion of licensing bicycles and cyclists is fraught with debate.
On one hand, some motorists are of the view that issuing licenses would be effective in encouraging more considerate road usage by cyclists, and be safer overall for everyone on the road. In fact, the wider public in Singapore is likely to support the move judging by their response to Mdm Ho’s Facebook post. The behaviour of “black sheep” cyclists have been caught on video and circulated on social media, garnering a lot of attention and calls for change.
One such incident happened back in December 2018 when a cyclist knocked off the side mirror of a lorry with his hand. The lorry then hit the cyclist, with the driver claimed in Court that he was merely swerving to avoid a taxi.
Both cyclists and lorry driver were charged in court. The cyclist was fined S$2,800 for not cycling in an orderly and careful manner based on the traffic regulations, while the lorry driver was sentenced to seven weeks in jail a two-year driving ban for causing hurt to a cyclist by rash driving as well as a S$500 for failing to make a police report within 24 hours.
On the other, there is a world of practical issues with licensing bicycles, the least of which include how to navigate the issue of children on bicycles, encouraging more cycling for environmental reasons, and ensuring that the administration of licensing and registration for bicycles and cyclists isn’t going to end up being a massive white elephant.
As Mr Chee said in his announcement, the Netherlands seems to be managing well without licensing cyclists or registering bicycles.
Part of this could be attributed to the fact that the cycling infrastructure there is top notch, with a network of cycle paths and tracks, protected intersections, bicycle parking, and even safe bicycle routes connecting towns and cities.
The country has kept cyclists in mind when building its transport infrastructure, which strengthens the safety afforded to cyclists. Additionally, when people get their driving license, they are trained on how to safety interact with cyclists and share the roads with them. Cycling is part of the culture there.
Countries that license bicycles don’t do it over a lack of road safety compliance
But that’s just one side of the spectrum. What about countries that do have licensing requirements for bicycles? One example is Japan, where all bicycles sold are registered with the local government. However, this is largely an anti-theft measure.
There is also Switzerland, which used to make it compulsory for bicycles to have a “license” sticker. But this is, once again, less about safety and more about encouraging cyclists to purchase insurance. However, the Swiss parliament eventually abolished the licenses in 2010, as they decided that the cost of running the scheme was far greater than the revenue it generated.
Many other countries did the same in requiring some sort of registration badge for bicycles, but these too were eventually phased out by some countries as the cost far outweighed the income generated.
So yes, there are countries that do require licenses for cyclists and registration for bicycles. But as we can tell, these are most for anti-theft and insurance purposes.
In fact, the city of Toronto in Canada repealed its bicycle licensing by-law in 1957 after finding that it often results in “unconscious contravention” of the law, especially by young children. Over the years since then, the city has studied licensing cyclists to improve road safety, but each time rejected the idea as being ineffective.
The reasons given are that the administration cost would be too high, the problem of age, and the fact that licensing in and of itself does not deter the behaviours of cyclists who break traffic laws. The studies basically concluded that creating a major bureaucracy of licensing is not worth it.
Toronto had looked into license for cyclists for reasons of improving road safety and ruled that it was not effective. And that, after all, is the main issue in Singapore as well, right?
The idea of licensing cyclists was raised due to road safety concerns. Yet, many regions have already ruled it out as an effective solution to the problem of poor and dangerous road behaviour. This root of the problem requires a different solution.
Why is it that licensing is seen as a viable solution to improving compliance of traffic regulations? Is there no other way for road users to be educated and encouraged to share the roads? Is there some reason why cyclists behave the way they do in Singapore, feeling entitled to use the roads without care or consideration of road traffic regulations?
And also how can the cycling infrastructure be improved to better protect cyclists and motorists?
As the case in 2018 shows—where both motorist and cyclists were punished for rash driving/cycling—the law already allows for action to be taken against errant cyclist.
So it begs the question: how would a licensing scheme for cyclists work and is it truly necessary?