Where to put the number plate? ...  bicycles make up 11 per cent of the vehicles in the Melbourne CBD.

Where to put the number plate? ... bicycles make up 11 per cent of the vehicles in the Melbourne CBD. Photo: Andrew De La Rue

“Pay yer rego!”

It's a cry I've heard many times while cycling, and it always confuses me.

While we're at it, why not register pedestrians? 

For starters, I've already paid rego twice this year: for a car and a motor scooter. When I'm on my bike, these vehicles are at home, taking a break from clogging the road or burning fossil fuels (in fact, my car was getting so much rest, I got rid of it).

Secondly, there is no rego fee for a bicycle. So how am I supposed to pay it?

The idea that cyclists should pay registration is a perennial one for bike-bashers, and seems to revolve around two pet theories.

The first notion, that of “user pays”, falls down on a vast number of points, including:

1. Road construction is paid for out of general taxation. We all fund the roads, even those who only ever walk. Besides, rego revenue falls far short of the amount spent on roads, and is swallowed up by administration fees and third party insurance.

2. Local road repairs are paid for by councils – your rates are subsidising people who drive through your suburb (the bludgers!).

3. Cars are charged by weight and the damage they do. In NSW, a 1.51-tonne car costs $459 to register and a 950-kilogram vehicle, $243; on that sliding scale, what might the owner of a 10-kilogram bicycle pay?

The second theory regards registration plates being used for law enforcement: “I could report the number of a cyclist breaking the road rules, and they'd get a fine.”

This idea fails in so many areas it's hard to know where to start. Have you ever noted the number of a car that breaks the law, and phoned it in to the police? They will sigh and tell you there's nothing they can do.

If visible registration plates prevent traffic violations, then surely we should never see car drivers speeding, tailgating or texting while driving? Besides, cyclists who cause accidents are likely to do the most damage to themselves; in a car crash, the culpable driver has a good chance of escaping unharmed. Is a massive, costly logistical exercise, registering the 1 million bicycles sold in Australia every year, really worth it to maybe catch a few cyclists who treat red lights as give way signs?

Then there are the practical considerations. Would it be the cyclist or the bicycle that is registered? Does three bikes mean three regos? For a number plate to be visible to a red-light camera, it would have to be large and transversely mounted. Where and how would it attach? How many riders and pedestrians would be injured by those plate edges, not to mention car paint jobs scratched?

While we're at it, why not register pedestrians? As was pointed out in a hilarious column on Monday, they're always jaywalking, demanding separate paths and getting themselves run over. Register the lot of 'em!

Wait … if boats have to pay registration, isn't it about time surfers paid too? And displayed registration, so we can film and fine them if they stray into swimming zones?

And it's about now that I should ask you, dear reader, with tears in my true-blue eyes:

What kind of an Australia do we want to live in?

Imagine renting a beachside holiday house, finding a couple of bicycles in the shed … then realising you don't have a bike licence, or forgot to bring it.

Imagine having to explain to foreigners that we are the only nation in the world where riding a bicycle - a global transport solution that is way older than the car - requires a licence.

It would be nanny-stateism gone bonkers. A redefinition of the concept of world's worst practice.

Why hinder a form of transport that has doubled in use in the Sydney CBD in the past year, and makes up an impressive 11 per cent of vehicles in the Melbourne city centre?

Registering cycles would instantly cause use to plummet. Instead of filtering through side streets or using paths over major bridges, former cyclists would be putting more cars on the roads and more people on our struggling public transport networks.

Yes – motorists would suffer.

Happily, despite the mouthings of shock jocks, Shane Warne and people who should know better, there appear to be no official moves to bring in such a retrograde move.

And even though the NSW government is sending mixed messages on bike lanes (while doing nothing), and the Victorian government has cut funding for cycle infrastructure to a big fat zero, sparking protests, cycling participation continues to grow.

Healthier citizens, less pressure on public transport, a reduction in pollution, congestion and parking problems – who would want to put a price on that?

Can you think of any other reasons why bicycle registration is a bad idea?

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