Update - Toronto

Hideouswhitenoise,Issue #33, August 1997

by Joe Hendry

In February of this year as most of Toronto's residents were concernedwith its very existence, Toronto's politicians had greater concerns. Nineof the seventeen Councillors felt it necessary to pursue measures to licensebike couriers in a city that may not exist in 11 months. Council passeda motion for the staff to prepare a report on thepotential licensing of bicycle couriers in the city.

The potential licensing of couriers in Toronto arose out of City Council'sdiscussion on enhancing bicycle safety in the city. The deaths of 5 citycyclists last year focused attention on safety on the roads. Two of thosecyclists (Erin Krauser and Martha Kennedy), died in collisions with trucks,ten days apart in July. The resulting publicity led the City to requestThe Board of Management to prepare a report on "Enhancing BicycleSafety".

One of the items that council wanted the Board to report on was "establishingenforceable traffic regulations for cyclists and requiring all cycliststo be tested in order to obtain a license." The resulting report notedthat "enforceable traffic regulations already exist in the OntarioHighway Traffic Act and the Toronto Municipal Code. In 1988, the HTA wasamended to require cyclists to identify themselves to police. "Thischange has enabled police to effectively enforce traffic regulations forcyclists."

The report also noted that the Ministry of Transportation and MetroPolice did not support licensing cyclists.

During City Council's discussion of the report, Councillor Steve Ellis(Ward 9) also voiced his concerns against licensing all cyclists becauseas he said, "I don't think it will work", and it would be "anightmare to administer". Anyway Ellis says "it's not Johnnyand Janey coming down from the's the courier industry thatare hitting people." He believes that "these kamikaze couriers...shouldhave clear licenses on them with big numbers that youcan complain about them and have their license revoked or charged."

Ellis' reasons for licensing couriers did not arise out of any research,nor studies nor reports on bike messengers. Ellis' 'expertise' on courierscame from walking around Bay and Richmond streets where "you see thesekamikaze couriers all over the place". Ellis didn't ask for any reportsor studies to see if there is a need to license messengers or what effectit would have on the industry.

There are no studies or statistics to show that bike couriers causeaccidents or injury to themselves or others. The problem is one of prejudiceand perceptions. A study by the Automobile InsuranceSociety of Quebec from 1992 concluded that couriers' "behaviour drawsattention because their clothing and bag make them more visible,"and in fact couriers "have no more of a propensity for accidents perkilometre travelled than other bicycle riders...and for that reason cautionis advised in imputing accident risk to couriers in order to justify specificintervention targeting this type of road user."

Licensing in other cities has shown that it leads to harassment anddiscrimination. Licensing has no effect on behaviour (look at taxi drivers)and police are pressured by perceptions to harass messengers. They spendmore time checking licenses than enforcing safety laws.

Councillor Ellis could not have read any reports on messengers. Whathe is concerned about is "cost recovery", that is, how much wouldthe city have to charge for these licenses.

The last time Toronto considered licensing for bike messengers was 1989-92,through the Metro Licensing Commission. A sub-committee on Bicycle Courierswas set up in 1989 to institute a licensing program and Metro got as faras a draft by-law in 1991. They wanted to chargecouriers $93 per year for a licence. Couriers responded by setting up theAssociation of Professional Urban Cyclists (APUC)"to unite the bicycle couriers and protect their chosen professionfrom bureaucratic bungling". APUC worked with the Toronto City CyclingCommittee to bring sanity to the discussion and understanding to theirprofession.

In the end licensing was put off last time because of a lack of knowledgeabout its effects on the industry and a lack of confidence in its abilityto achieve its goals. This time the licensing debate was pre-empted bythe Mega-City. The next time it will be decided by a council composed ofmany suburban politicians who only see couriers through their blurry carwindows.

So in the Mega-City election remember Councillors like Steve Ellis whosupport legislation based on prejudice and personal experience. Elect councillorswho support policies that do not discriminate against visible minoritieslike couriers.

Update, November 1997 - Councillor Ellis was defeated in the megacityelection.

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