Set to close: the cycleway in College Street. Photo: Peter Rae
- Documents released by the FOI request: see below
Forcing cyclists to take out a licence, as proposed by Duncan Gay, would put ''substantial'' costs on families and probably be ineffective – according to Duncan Gay.
The NSW Roads Minister said in May he was ''increasingly persuaded'' by the need for a licensing system for cyclists to crack down on those who break the law.
But the stance was a new one. Documents obtained using freedom of information laws show the scepticism within Roads and Maritime Services about the idea of licensing cyclists, advice Mr Gay until recently appeared to accept.
One of the main arguments against licensing cyclists is the high cost it would impose on adults and children wanting to cycle.
The price of a licence may have to be high enough to cover the cost of maintaining and enforcing the scheme. Using drivers’ licences as a comparison, the cost could be between $21 and $76 a year per cyclist, or more if enforcement costs were included.
"This would have a regressive impact on lower-income families,'' an RMS briefing document of late 2011 said.
At one stage Mr Gay appeared to accept the advice.
''The fees for cycling licensing and registration, if introduced, would have to be renewable annually to have enforcement value, and they would have to be high enough to cover administrative costs,'' Mr Gay's former chief executive Michael Bushby wrote on the Minister’s behalf in 2011.
''The resulting financial burden on adult cyclists and parents, and the wider community if the costs were subsidised, would be substantial.''
Writing to a colleague in August 2012, Mr Gay outlined other practical problems with a licensing scheme.
''There are no precedents for mandatory bicycle registration or cyclist licensing in Australia,'' Mr Gay wrote to the Member for Vaucluse, Gabrielle Upton.
''To be effective, the scheme would need to be introduced in all jurisdictions, otherwise it would restrict access for bicycle riders from other areas who would be considered 'unregistered and unlicensed,' '' he wrote.
But the minister said in May he was ''increasingly persuaded'' by the idea of a licensing scheme for cyclists in the wake of a spate of cycling fatalities.
''If we're going to put rules in place, and I need to be tougher on car drivers, but I am increasingly persuaded that we need to look at a licence for cyclists,'' Mr Gay said.
''It's not going to worry the ones that are doing the right thing, but the bad ones that are running lights, crossing over, being aggressive, they're a large part of the statistic.''
He has indicated he is not interested in a registration scheme for bikes, only a licensing scheme.
But Mr Gay’s department has struggled to find evidence in favour of this idea.
One problem is that a high proportion of cyclists are children. ''Requiring minors to be formally licensed before being allowed to ride on a public road in NSW would be without precedent,'' a briefing note says.
''If unlicensed for road riding, under existing NSW law children aged between 12 and 18 would not be permitted to ride alone on a footpath.''
Another report written by consultants Halcrow, received by the department in September 2011, found only the Canadian city of Vancouver had a licensing scheme to improve the competency of cyclists, and then only for bike couriers.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s sister, City of Sydney councillor Christine Foster, has proposed a bike registration scheme.
In response, RMS prepared advice saying such a scheme would ''require a major shift in public policy and significant changes to registration, accident and insurance law''.
Transport for NSW is currently preparing a report for Mr Gay into the prospects of cyclist licensing.
Fairfax Media’s freedom of information request asked for all analysis prepared within the department into the benefits or costs of a license or registration scheme between April 2011 and May 2014.
The response included no analysis in favour of a scheme.
A spokeswoman for Mr Gay said: ''We are looking into the option of licensing cyclists. There is a difference between licensing and registration.''