This blog is an expanded version of a letter that I sent to my NC State Rep Verla Insko
This week the NC State Representative from Wilkes County, Jeffery Elmore, proposed H157, a bike registration bill. If passed, cyclists riding on any NC state road will be required to pay $10/year for a registration card and plate for their bicycle and failure to do so can result in a fine up to $25. As a bike lover and cyclist, I’m vehemently opposed to this bill. In its current state, it discourages recreational cycling statewide and places a heavy burden on the lowest income populations.
Cycling means a lot to me. I learned the roads of my community on a bike, earned my first paycheck delivering papers by bike, and made friends who also rode bikes. It was my only means of transport through college; I didn’t buy a car until graduation week. Biking was how I got groceries, visited friends, and eventually how I rode across the country advocating for affordable housing with Bike & Build. For some, like myself, it’s a path to self-actualization and autonomy but for others, it’s how they stay active and healthy.
You might be reading this and thinking $10/year is a small cost, who cares? I completely understand. For us, this is a new hoop to jump through, an added barrier between the occasional bike commute or workout. This could become a subconscious justification for not riding today. It’s telling yourself you’ll bike to work tomorrow or it’s the reason you can’t ride bikes with your kids today. However, if you do choose to ride your bike despite the known consequence, you’re now at risk of paying 2.5 times the original price on top of the future registration. Does $35 sound right for a stroll down the road? Consider now the people for whom $10, $25, and $35 is everything. It’s all that’s leftover after a paycheck or all that they can save after a couple of weeks. For every person who’s making the choice to ride their bike rather than a car or for the fun of it, there are those who have no other option.
Outside of major metropolitan areas even simple tasks like grocery shopping are substantially more difficult and time consuming on public transit or walking. For those folks who don’t own a car and are healthy enough to ride one, a bike is the only realistic option for commuting and errands. The ubiquity of bikes makes them accessible to most people regardless of their socioeconomic status. Whether from thrift stores, non-profits, or even a friend with a beat up bike, a bike is a sturdy machine designed for heavy use. These are the cyclists, however, who will be most harmed by the otherwise low-cost registration as well as the punitive fine. This fine is comparable to overdraft fees as it targets similar socioeconomic statuses and has a similar charge. As such, Americans, in total, paid $34 Billion in 2017 (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/overdraft-fees-havent-been-this-bad-since-the-great-recession-2018-03-27) with only an average of $20 for each fee. Even that is less than the exorbitant fine for not having a registration plate on your bike. Imagine how this could add up over a year for a person.
Offenders will rarely just pay the $25. The $25 fine is currently listed as an infraction in the bill, this means it comes with additional court fees to pay on top of the previous amount. (https://www.nccourts.gov/help-topics/fees-and-payments/court-costs#criminal-and-infraction-costs-including-traffic-tickets-5430) These additional costs add up over time and don’t include the career cost of attending court during the workweek. Riding your bike to work or to get groceries will carry with it the impending threat of swiping a debit card with a precariously low balance. These folks don’t need another bill or threat of debt over their head while they ride to work.
Bike registration isn’t a new idea. Since I started riding on the road, I’ve encountered drivers who feel like I don’t belong because I’m not buying into the care of it. This claim has been debunked and addressed many times over. (https://www.bicycling.com/training/a20042771/the-best-responses-to-anti-cyclist-claims/) My arguments here aren’t comprehensive of all the reasons why bike registration is the wrong move but it’s impact on people is the most important to me. Don’t keep me from riding my bike a couple of times a week and don’t place another barrier between those without a car and getting to work on time.