A common comment that I hear from motorists is that cyclists should pay for rego. The argument goes like this, "Cyclists use the roads therefore they should pay to use them".
It is usually in the form of a rant from some angry driver yelling out their car window or obnoxious media personality. It sounds simple enough, but not only is this argument flawed in it's logic, it's also a simple fact that the money from rego goes towards insurance and administration rather than construction and maintenance of roads. Roads are not a a user pays system. If you pay taxes, you pay for the roads. If you're a motorist who argues for a user pays system for roads, you should be careful what you wish for. You could end up paying much more than you already do.
The reason why cyclists do not pay rego is because the potential for bicycles to cause damage and harm is negligible compared to motor vehicles. There's no disputing the simple fact that motor vehicles seriously injure and kill people every day. Even though cyclists take up less space than cars and incur no additional costs on the road system, I argue that cyclists should indeed have the option to pay for rego. Besides the fact that it would bury this ridiculous argument and get motorists off our backs, there's a more important reason - insurance.
In Victoria the insurance that rego pays for is called TAC. Every state has something similar. This is a no-fault insurance scheme which provides excellent cover, particularly for serious traffic accidents. Fortunately as cyclists we are covered by TAC if involved in an accident with a motor vehicle (technically, the vehicle needs to be running).
However, when a cyclist is involved in an accident that does not involve a motor vehicle we are left uninsured by TAC. The public insurance system will cover the majority of the costs however ambulance and therapy thereafter may be expensive and elective surgery could be a lengthy wait. If the accident is catastrophic (e.g. spinal or brain injuries), private insurance may only cover a portion of the costs. The amount of therapy needed and lifestyle modifications required for a catastrophic injury could amount to a small fortune. If cyclists had the option to pay rego, TAC would provide adequate cover for all severe injuries that occur on the road.
The majority of serious cycling accidents involve a motor vehicle so there's a good chance that TAC would cover the costs. However, a situation such as crashing on a high speed descent or suddenly hitting a stray dog could result in severe or catastrophic injuries that would not be covered by TAC.
Unfortunately a registration scheme derived specifically for bicycles would likely cost more to administer than the insurance premiums themselves. However, an add-on to the current TAC scheme could conceivably work well at a fraction of the cost of a separate policy. I don't know a single cyclist who doesn't also own a car (and therefore pays rego), so an add-on to our vehicle registration would be a logical step to implement.
Along with vehicle registration comes license plates. Another common argument is that bicycles should have a means of identification. I agree with this in theory as I'd like to see cyclists be accountable for their actions, however when have license plates ever deterred reckless hoons? I see motorists break laws every day and I've never reported a vehicle for a minor infraction. I don't see the problem of reckless cyclists being solved with license plates. Give this a try at home: ring the police and report a speeding car. Give the number plate and say you saw the driver doing 70km/h in a 60km/h zone. What do you think the reaction would be?
Bikes have been outselling cars in Australia for nearly a decade now. If cyclists paid rego it would not only provide adequate insurance for us in the most serious of situations, it would give cyclists a more powerful voice to guide road policies and legitimize our use of the road.
Wade Wallace writes about cycling for The Age