TAGS FOR BICYCLE MESSENGERS?

NOT UNLESS THE DISTRICT LICENSES EVERY BUSINESS AND ALL DELIVERYMEN

Column: CLOSE TO HOME

Washington Post, October 18, 1987

Bicyclists have been riding on the soft side of the law for at leastthe seven years I have worked as a courier. I have spoken with people whothink this beautifully free-spirited and with others who think this anaffront to good order and manners. It has always seemed to me to be a practicalaccommodation to an awkward situation.

The District has enjoyed the advantage of putting off some difficultquestions by allowing a little vagueness in its bicycle laws. Bicyclistshave enjoyed the advantage of following their own instincts. The operativeprinciple has been: fit in as best you can and don't clog up the works.If this won't work anymore, if the increase in bicycle traffic downtownmakes change necessary, these changes need not be made in the heat of unwarrantedanger.

The Commercial Bicycle Operators Training and Licensing Act is a poorpiece of legislation, vaguely conceived, ineffective and, at its heart,unfair.

This is a bill that would regulate street traffic with a business licenseand regulate a business with a motor vehicle license. If the District wereto license all bicyclists, I wouldn't complain. Or if the District wereto license everyone who makes deliveries downtown -- UPS, Federal Express,the car and motorcycle drivers of my own company -- I wouldn't complain.But this bill addresses neither all businesses nor all drivers. It is amakeshift combination of two generally accepted licensing powers in orderto select a designated group for regulation.

It is simply unfair that bicycle couriers should be subjected to restrictionsand fees not imposed on other deliverymen; but it is grossly unfair, andI think incompatible with our legal procedures (though Elliot Richardsonand Edwin Meese might think differently), to license and tag a specificpopulation -- i.e., bicycle couriers -- and subject them to greater oversightand enforcement simply because they are thought most likely to break thelaw.

The media coverage of this issue has seemed mostly concerned with characterizingcouriers as outlaws and barbarians. Discrimination wears many faces andat times can seem even reasonable or practical, but I hope the D.C. Councilwill look to higher principles.

The chief argument of those who favor the courier licensing bill isthat the bill would force cyclists to comply with the bicycle traffic laws.But just like motor-vehicle operators, bicyclists can be ticketed and fined.If they ignore these citations, they risk the penalties, including arrest.I admit I do not know of any bicyclist who has been arrested for disregardingcitations, but I suspect the reason is that cyclists, until recently, havebeen ticketed only a little more frequently than jaywalkers; these infractionsare not a high priority. This could change; I expect it will.

Instead of soliciting the opinions of bicycle couriers, who have a wealthof experience to share, the policymakers have cast couriers in the roleof adversaries. This does not make sense when it is cooperation, on andoff the street -- and sweet reason -- that is wanted.

-- Henry Tenaglio Jr.


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