City of Ottawa Report on Licensing Bike Couriers

From: Department of Engineering and Works

Date: May 29, 1992

Economic Affairs Committee


At its budget deliberation meeting of 1991 February 19/20, City Councildirected that bicycle licensing be explored as a means to generate revenueto support initiatives within the Ottawa Cycling Plan. The Department'ssubsequent review of the matter indicated that, among other likely disadvantages,administrative and enforcement costs would far exceed any possible revenues.Consequently, at its meeting of 1991 July 3, City Council resolved thatbicycle licensing should not be introduced.

During the course of the Department's development of the bicycle licensingreport however a distinction was made between the licensing of bicyclesin general and the licensing of bicycle couriers in particular. Both theChairman of the Community Services and Operations Committee and the OttawaCycling Advisory Group expressed some interest in exploration of licensingbicycle couriers, not as a revenue-generating initiative but as a mechanismto promote safe cycling and compliance with the Highway Traffic Act (H.T.A.)as expected business practices.

The Department has concluded its study of the matter and, on the basisof its findings, does not propose to pursue the licensing of bicycle couriersfurther.


The use of bicycle couriers was developed by courier companies in responseto the increase of vehicular congestion in the downtown core. That, togetherwith parking restrictions, made delivering parcels by bicycle an economicaland effective alternative to delivery vans or compact cars. Courier companiesmay have ten to fifteen cyclists registered as dependent contractors whoprovide a delivery service to the courier company. The work is so physicallydemanding that many do not continue for extended periods and staff turnoveris more frequent than would be expected for drivers.

A study on the Safety of Bicycle Couriers prepared by the Societe del'assurance automobile du Quebec on 1992 February 13 (and revised on 1992April 8) noted that "typical risk behaviours of bike couriers consistsabove all in travel on sidewalks, riding against traffic on one-way streetsand crossing against a red light. There is nothing to indicate, howeverthat they act more recklessly than other cyclists using the downtown coreof a city where vehicular and pedestrian traffic is heavy. It is reasonableto assume that their behaviour draws attention mainly because their clothingand bag (often bearing the company name or courier service logo) make themmore visible...couriers probably have no more of a propensity for accidentsper kilometre travelled than other bicycle riders; the difference in mishaprates between the two groups might well be statistically insignificant.For that reason, caution is advised in imputing accident risk to couriersin order to justify specific intervention targeting this type of road user."Those conclusions were based on information gathered from municipal authoritiesin Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C.The accident statistics were obtained from Montreal and Seattle.

Concerns respecting the promotion of safe cycling and compliance wereaddressed by the Province on 1990 January 12 when the Highway Traffic Actwas amended to require any cyclist to provide personal identification atthe request of a Police Officer. The Police may lay charges on the basisof that identification for infractions under the Highway Traffic Act orany municipal by-law regulating traffic.

The Ottawa Police doubled their Police Bike Patrol in 1991 to eight(8) bicycles and fifteen (15) officers who operate on roadways and bikepaths from May to October. Although the Bike Patrol is a full operationalunit not exclusively directed to the cycling community, the Ottawa CyclingAdvisory Group (O.C.A.G.) reports that the increased presence of the Policeon City streets last spring appears to have resulted in an improvementin cycling behaviour, particularity in the downtown area.

The Department has on record six cycling complaints in 1991: three respectedsidewalk riding; one, a collision with a pedestrian; one, n ill-manneredcyclist, and one a cyclist with no lights. With the exception of the ill-manneredcyclist, all complaints would have been violations of the H.T.A. and actionableby the Ottawa Police. The alleged violators were not identified by thecomplainants as bicycle couriers.

In summary, the notable presence of the Ottawa Bike Squad on City streetscoupled with enhanced authority for the Police to request rider identificationappears to have had a positive effect on cyclists' behaviour during thefirst year, and would be expected to increase effectiveness in subsequentyears. Because no other benefits of licensing to either the public or thebicycle could be identified, it is not proposed to pursue the matter furtherat this time.

No Ontario municipality licenses bicycle couriers currently.

D.G. Curry Commissioner of Engineering And Works

Part II

Supporting Information

The Ottawa Cycling Advisory Group

O.C.A.G. concurs with the Department's finding and conclusions. In additionto the Department's analysis, O.C.A.G. expressed concern that the impositionof a licensing fee my discourage bicycle couriers in favour of small motorvehicles thus increasing congestion on City streets and contributing toenvironmental pollution.

The Ottawa Pedestrian Citizens Committee

The Ottawa Pedestrian Citizens Committee expressed concern about violationsof the H.T.A. and believes that the licensing of bicycle couriers willimprove identification.

The committee's comments are available in their entirety at SecretariatServices and Corporate Networking.

Staff Response

A licensing scheme would not address infractions of the H.T.A.. TheOttawa Police is, by statute, the enforcement body authorized to issuenotices for such moving violations. Furthermore, the Department found nostatistical evidence to support the opinion that bicycle couriers violatethe H.T.A. with greater frequency than recreational cyclists.

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