This year’s Ride to Work Day might be the most important ever. There is a global push for motorcycles (powered two-wheelers) to be recognized as part of the solution for post-Covid transportation options.
You may have seen postings started from the European FEMA group speaking to the point of social distancing being an inherent advantage of powered two wheelers.In particular, Corona Crisis: Motorcycles Should Be Part Of The ‘New Normal’.
There’s also a very good article in Cycle Canada by Francois Cominardi “Streamline transportation and save millions of dollars”
Even more proactive is the U.K.’s MCIA’s launch of their “Unlock Your Freedom” campaign. In their case, part of this initiative has been the UK government’s total exclusion of powered two wheelers as part of the policy discussion. The interesting part of the MCIA situation is the UK government opted to support only car and bicycle options. The absurdity of exclusionary practices in the current political climate is driving the frustration.
In Vancouver, recent reports from Translink CEO, Kevin Desmond, said he “expects it will be a long time before ridership numbers rebound….” They quote an SFU political science professor, Anthony Pearl, who said “based on what we have learned, it takes years for a transit system’s ridership to recover – in the case of SARS in China, it took three years.”
So, the issue of people looking for options to transit will be here for a while.
Why government should include powered-two wheelers in transportation options.
For starters, you can’t argue the basic advantages around powered two-wheel transportation:
- They are an option to cars. They are greener.
- They use less space, and less fuel than cars. They put less wear on the roadways.
- They are part of active transportation and an option for trips that are too long for a bicycle.
Three reasons why it’s a struggle to get motorcycles recognized as transportation.
1. Accident figures distort the potential risk for riders
The BC coroner’s office noted a couple years ago of a spike in rider deaths. It provided easy reasoning to help dismiss motorcycles as a serious form of transportation. Borrowing the mantra from Vision Zero, “One Life is Too Many” and who can disagree with that. However, that’s not a reason to eliminate motorcycles from the transportation discussion.
Statistics can be a bit of a moving target, but some general averages can make the point to determine how manageable the net risk is to the transportation system, let’s back out these provincial facts:
- In B.C. about a 25% of motorcycle fatalities involve alcohol. In the U.S. it’s almost 30%.
- Speeding is linked to other crash dynamics, so it’s hard to give an exact number. However, most any study you review puts speed as a top contributing factor in fatal accidents.
- Almost one third of crashes involved riders without a valid licence.
- Super sport bike riders have a fatality rate four times that of any other type of motorcycle
The above points are correctable behaviour. If you eliminate those issues and it’s estimated you have:
- .004% chance of dying
- 1.2% chance of injury
- 2.0% chance of crashing
2. Training is not incentivized
- Currently ICBC does not offer preferred insurance rates for riders that take professional training. The reason given is there is no ICBC data correlating training with a lower accident rate. ICBC also does not currently collect that crash data, so as a math corollary they are right. In the court of common sense, the view is questionable. Canada Safety Council stats on Quebec (the largest motorcycle group in Canada) estimate mandatory motorcycle training can prevent roughly 46% of rider fatalities.
- ABS braking systems are a related safety point. It’s a proven safety benefit. Currently there is no premium reduction with ICBC or private carrier if your motorcycle has ABS. This, despite the fact motorcycles with ABS are almost 40% less likely to be in fatal crashes and rider injuries are almost 35% less frequent with an ABS equipped motorcycle.
3. Figuring out where “powered two-wheelers” start on the transportation mix.
As the wave of “micro-mobility” washes over the landscape, it has brought fresh challenges to safety and the idea of personal mobility. The provincial government describes a “Micromobility device” as a zero-emission personal mobility device such as an e-scooter, typically designed to transport one person. This class of vehicle is not currently authorized to be used on streets and sidewalks. Part of this discussion tends to include powered assisted bicycles, which have a whole new risk factor, especially since the introduction of new behemoth models.
Police have cited the micro mobility class of products as a new tool in the arsenal of criminals. Often unlicensed, unregistered, no licence required and not bought from a licensed motor dealer. It’s ideal for the nefarious. An additional challenge is staying ahead of the product curve. Google “Fat Bike”; certainly a vehicle of significant mass and potential speed.
This discussion asks at what point do you have a powered motor vehicle and thus be required to be trained in its operation, licensed, insured and purchased from a recognized motor dealer? It’s a logical assumption to expect a percentage those starting with micro mobility products will move up to more robust two-wheel products.
Message to governments – engage the motorcycle industry. They build these products and it’s in their interest to comply. They follow the rules, regulations, and they (and their dealers) pay the fees and taxes to do so. Do not incentivize new unregulated transportation modes at their expense. A level playing field is needed for everyone’s safety.
I’ll close with the elephant in the room on getting motorcycles accepted as transportation – riders. It might be best expressed up by the butchered expression, “We have seen the enemy and they are us.”
In North America, motorcycling has always been very much a recreational pursuit. The global view that motorcycles are a recognized form of transportation is rather new.
Selling motorcycles as mostly a recreational experience tends to sell form over function; you sell the experience and less the destination. Think of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild”. Much of this is also playing into the notion that you get to be badass riding a motorcycle. Motorcycle advertising has generally reinforced the image you are buying. (Tip of the hat of course, to Honda’s legendary “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”. Look what that did to sales.) The proliferation of super powered sport bike models was to appeal to the badass wannabea track stars. As a result, many riders became self-centred, and why not. Advertising supported that view.
You don’t have to look very far to see how too often this lifestyle selling has often affected riding habits and negative perception of motorcycles by regulatory bodies. Social media posts showing flatdeck trucks full of impounded motorcycles on the Sea to Sky highway are evidence of the problem.
The rider image has arguably been a stumbling block in welcoming motorcycles into the transportation planning process. Riders have (again arguably) too often been their own worst enemy. Not all, but too many.
You are unlikely to change views or habits of the traditional recreational rider. You can leave them as is. They will make out okay. They will buy the big performance machines. Their reasons for riding are not transportation.
However, if policy makers took a “Motorcycling Done Right” thinking to a new generation, it could work. They are a group that may be looking for options to public transit, but still want to be part of the transportation solution. These riders are less likely to engage in risky behaviour; using them instead more for mobility and economical transportation.
They enjoy the riding exhilaration as much as the recreational rider, but they understand it’s a new world. It’s important to note that traditional riders can easily come over to a new way of thinking.
They are willing to (and want to) get professional training, wear the right gear, pick the right class of motorcycle, have legal mufflers, and generally follow the rules of the road. When they do all that, their risk percentage drops to single digits.
Incentivising this way of thinking is where the regulatory policy conversation should start.