Danelle Laidlaw, Executive Director Bicycling Association of BC

John Whistler, Chairman Vancouver Bicycle Advisory Committee

In 1989 the City of Vancouver established a testing and licensing programfor bicycle couriers operating within the city. This seminar looks at theformat of the program, processes leading to the implementation of the program,and a review of the program. In preparation for this seminar surveys wereconducted of couriers and courier companies in addition to interviews withthe local police and other affected agencies. This seminar could be ofinterest to representatives from other cities that might be consideringsimilar programs, and it attempts to review the potential problems andissues that are raised by this type of regulation.


In 1987, Vancouver City Council was concerned about the conduct of thegrowing number of bicycle couriers working in the downtown core. Significantcomplaints from the public had bean received about couriers ignoring trafficlaws and there were increases in incidents of accidents, particularly withpedestrians. The City Engineering Department had recently established aBicycle Program Co-ordinator and this position was assigned the task toestablish a program to regulate and control the bicycle couriers.

The initial recommendation to City Council was for a licensing programto be centred around an 8 hour training course based on the nationallyrecognized CAN-BIKE program. After successful completion of the trainingprogram, a courier could then obtain their licence and seek employmentand work legally. The City Council considered the training aspect of theprogram too controversial as similar training is not required for a driverslicence or to ride a bicycle for other purposes. The resulting bylaw, eliminatedthe requirement for training, but maintained the requirement for a writtenand road test. Implementation was set for January 1 1989.

The bureaucracy to administer the program and the testing processeshad to be set up. In spite of many strategy meetings, in late 1988 it wasobvious the program could not be implemented by Jan. l. Of the estimated200 active couriers only a few had shown up at the publicized testing times.Either the couriers were not aware of the new regulations or they did nottake it seriously. A four month grace period was given (warnings only wereissued) and the program was given further publicity.


The administration of the program is divided up between testing andlicensing. Testing is contracted out to the Bicycling Association of BC(BABC), who receives a yearly grant from the City and receives the $ 10.00(CDN) testing fee. Upon successful completion of the test, the licenceand subsequent renewals, is obtained from the City Department of Permitsand Licences.

Potential couriers can obtain a study package from the BABC offices,which is recommended before taking the written test. In addition, seminarsare held periodically to educate people about the program. The writtentest consists of 20 multiple choice questions modified from the examinationused for Effective Cycling students. There is an over 40% failure rate,mostly because of a lack of knowledge. Applicants with limited Englishand who misunderstand the questions is a concern and the test has beenrevised once to ensure clear unambiguous questions that are limited totraffic situations. All the BABC staff have been trained to administrateand review the test with applicants so there is an understanding of whyparticular answers may have been wrong.

After completing successfully the written test an applicant can thentake the road test. Testing is done once a week by a Can Bike II certifiedinstructor on a one to one basis with each applicant, and consists of ashort ride through the downtown core. Again there is a failure rate ofapproximately 40%, again mostly because of a lack of knowledge.


In preparing for this seminar a survey was conducted of bicycle couriersand courier companies.

The typical courier profile is male, 24 years old, works 8.5 hours aday for a daily wage of $80.00, has 1.5 years of post secondary educationand has been employed as a courier for 2.5 years. All respondents warepaid by commission which encourages couriers to be aggressive in theirdeliveries, explaining in part the reason that traffic laws are often ignored.

The couriers tended to be negative towards the testing and licensingprogram, feeling it to be an impediment to their job. Though it was feltthe tests were basically fair few respondents felt the program had improvedtheir cycling skills. Some couriers were satisfied that the program, withlicence plates, enhanced their profession and helped legitimize their useof the roads. Others though noted the licence plates to be a mark for policeharassment.

Disproportionate enforcement by police of traffic laws was a complaintby most couriers with many reporting receiving fines for minor offenses,meanwhile violations by other cyclists are ignored. The survey resultsdid not give strong support to this concern. Though the average courierreceived 2.75 traffic violations in the last 12 months, half the respondentsdid not receive any violations, while a few received a significant number.The feeling of unfair enforcement can be partially explained by the relativelyhigh cost of fines, which are the same for motor vehicles (typical fineis $100.00, which includes riding on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk, andthe fine for operating a bicycle without a bell is $75.00). There is alsolittle enforcement of cyclist behaviour throughout the city, and compoundedby poor education, other cyclists can be seen frequently breaking the law.

Most couriers noted safety concerns about motor vehicles, in particulardrivers who are either inattentive or are unaware of cyclists rights onthe road. The survey showed safety to be an issue and a significant amountof time is missed because of work related injuries, with the average couriermissing over 12 days in the last 12 months. This high rate of injuriestends to reinforce the need for training and testing of couriers. Helmetusage (which is not required by Workers Compensation Board (WCB) regulations)tends to be all the time or not at all, and over 60% reported using helmets(the City Engineering Department estimated 40% of downtown bicycle commutersused helmets in a 1991 survey). This was the only aspect of the surveywith significant differences between male and female respondents (femaleshad higher helmet usage and lower work days missed because of injuries).

There is no formal association or trade union for couriers, who mustwork well independently because of the nature of the job. Many couriercompanies employ cyclists with some having close to 20, while some couriershave developed their own cliental and work as independents. The companiesin general are satisfied with the performance of their bicycle couriersand noted they are profitable. The companies did note that their bicyclecouriers did tend to have poorer attendance records and to be short termemployees.


The establishment of the testing and licensing program raised a numberof issues, many of which are still not resolved completely. These issuesinclude:

Definition of a bicycle courier - This issue was a source ofconsiderable debate. The Vancouver program covers couriers who work forcourier companies only. People who use bicycles to deliver goods for companiesnot in the delivery business are not required to be licenced (ie newspapercarriers, delivery person for drug stores, etc.).

Should the program be expanded to include other classes of cyclists- (i.e. newspaper carriers, delivery person for drug stores, commuter cyclists,cyclists operating in downtown core, etc.).

Appropriate written and road tests - To what standards shouldbicycle couriers be measured against?

Accessibility of tests - Are the tests available at convenientlocations and times? Do the tests unfairly discriminate against peoplewho have a poor understanding of the English language? As this programcan limit employment opportunities it is important it be made as accessiblyas practical.

Cooperation of courier companies - Without cooperation implementationcan be more difficult.

Appropriateness of laws, fines, and enforcement - The implementationof this program raises the issues of the appropriateness of the laws concerningcyclists in general. Existing ineffective legislation or inappropriatefines will make the selling of a testing and licensing program more difficultto couriers.

Maintaining the security and integrity of the program - Systemshave to be in place to prevent fraud (couriers switching plates, peoplestanding in for others during tests, etc.) Enforcement is required to ensurecompliance (compliance is quite high in the Vancouver program). There isalso personal security issues for testers who sometimes have to deal withirate applicants that fail their test.

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