Letter | Promote tolerance of cyclists on roads

DAVE Lardner’s letter “Subject cyclists to road rules” (April 27) refers.

As chairman of the Pedal Power Association, I am compelled to publicly respond to Mr Lardner’s proposed regulatory ideas.

The fact that I thought it was an April Fool’s joke at first was fast dispelled by the date of the publication.

Nevertheless, it is always interesting to listen to ideas about how cyclists and motorists are able to use the limited space provided on our roads in some kind of harmony.

A group recently handed over a petition to the mayor after a mass cycle to raise awareness of the dangers for cyclists on Port Elizabeth roads
A group recently handed over a petition to the mayor after a mass cycle to raise awareness of the dangers for cyclists on Port Elizabeth roads

I could begin by saying that licensing on road bikes has been done before and did not alter or instigate any type of positive behavioural change in either motorists or cyclists in terms of road safety, so I’m not sure why bicycles would need licensing except to then permit cyclists to ride in the middle of the road as an equitable license-paying road user. But this is not a logical solution.

As for payment of taxes to assist in the maintenance and building of roads – it goes without saying that a 10kg bicycle has little to no negative proven impact on road or pavement surfaces.

But let’s “level the playing fields” as proposed and take a pro-rata calculation of the licence fee a bicycle would warrant (engine capacity and weight based): a 1 000-1 250kg vehicle pays R384 for an annual licence. In addition, this vehicle can carry up to four passengers as well as additional luggage and fuel.

A 10kg bicycle can carry only one person with little to no other baggage. But let’s stick solely to vehicle weight as the criteria that determines fee calculation – then you’re looking at a hefty R3.84 for a 10kg bicycle. Seems fair. Although the enforcement and collection of this tariff would far outweigh the contribution to the national fiscus.

Of course, if you are a government that is trying to promote economic growth, a healthy population and demonstrate care for the environment, then you would probably want to promote people getting onto bicycles instead of environmentally unfriendly vehicles.

I agree that all cyclists should be tested to see if they are able to cycle and operate a bicycle.

Just like horse riders need testing. And skateboarders. And joggers. And pedestrians, of course. All of these other road users can be problematic and a drunk pedestrian is far more dangerous to all road users than a competent cyclist.

(According to the Automobile Association, there were 14 071 road deaths in South Africa in 2016 – 451 of those were cyclists and 5 410 were pedestrians.)

Mr Lardner says that traffic lights must be approached with extreme caution and the cyclist must not pass through the light if red: that’s a standard law already. Cyclists must also come to a complete stop at stop streets: that too is law.

Riding abreast – unless overtaking – is unlawful already. So no need to ask for that to be legislated – it already is. So too must cyclists also wear helmets as well as a rear light (preferably red).

While we could nitpick the contents of the letter all day and have a good chuckle about it, the seriousness of this is cyclist safety.

Mr Lardner forgets one big detail: in every instance where a vehicle hits a cyclist, the cyclist is always going to come off worse. Substantially so.

So this is not about levelling the playing field in terms of taxes and regulations because a cyclist is far more exposed to injury and death every time he or she goes for a ride.

Furthermore, as many developing and developed economies have proven, a bicycle is for many people the only mode of transport that allows economic freedom and an opportunity to get to and from work.

To want to extract meaningless fees (which will be exceptionally hard to enforce if we’re realistic about it) from the poorest segment of our workforce seems somewhat Draconian and awfully colonial in its approach.

We need to promote cycling as an alternative mode of transport. We also need to promote tolerance between the various road user groups. This level of maturity and tolerance has been successfully reached in cities such as Amsterdam, London, Barcelona, Beijing, and Rome, among others.

But making me – as a cyclist – pay bicycle taxes, mount licence plates, mirrors, and stitch reflective garb across my a**e will not make you a more tolerant motorist, I’m afraid.

Rens Rezelman, chairman, Pedal Power Association