Dear Premier Ford:
I don’t think either you or your new Minister of Transport, John Yakabuski, have motorcycle licences, or even much reason to think about motorcyclists, but please let us tell you about some of the issues that curse motorcycle riders in Ontario. Now you’ve been elected as our Premier, and you have a majority cabinet to help get things done for the betterment of both public safety and efficient business, please consider making these changes – for the good of all drivers, on two wheels and four.
Ontario is, to our knowledge, the only jurisdiction in the entire world that does not allow motorcycles with a single rider to use the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on its highways. This was an oversight by the Ministry of Transportation when the HOV lanes were first established, but for 15 years, the Liberal government dug in its heels and refused to admit the mistake.
The reasoning behind HOV lanes was originally to encourage car-pooling: a vehicle is only permitted to drive in the specially-designated lane if the driver has at least one passenger. It’s an incentive to share a car for the daily commute, so at least one car is left at home and doesn’t contribute to the congested highway. In recent years, the policy was expanded to permit vehicles with official “green” licence plates – electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles – to use the HOV lanes, since those vehicles aren’t spewing as many pollutants into the air. And now, Ontario is half-way through a four-year experiment with allowing an extra 1,000 vehicles to use the HOV lanes on Queen Elizabeth Way if they pay $60 a month for the permit.
Everywhere else in the world recognizes that the use of a motorcycle instead of a car considerably reduces traffic congestion, because the bike takes up less physical space on the road and in parking lots. It also consumes less fuel than the average car or truck, and hence makes fewer pollutants. However, a single motorcyclist is liable for a fine of three demerit points and $110 if he or she uses the lane, despite creating less congestion than a car or pickup truck with two people inside.
Every municipality in Canada with HOV lanes, including Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, allows single-rider motorcycles to use them, but not Ontario. The HOV lanes should be an incentive to use transportation that relieves congestion and pollution, and that most definitely includes motorcycles. The previous Liberal governments refused to acknowledge this. Will your government please, with little more than the stroke of a pen and some new road signs, finally see sense and correct the previous mistake?
We’ve been banging away at this for years because it’s so obvious: motorcycles are much smaller and narrower than cars, and in most of the world, they’re allowed to filter between lanes of vehicles in congested traffic. California just passed a law to legitimize this; several other states are still considering it.
The problem is that it looks dangerous, although it’s actually much safer for a rider, as we’ve explained before. Critics will always say that it might work elsewhere in the world (as it does), but Ontario drivers are so bad it would never work here. We’ve suggested that it should be introduced gradually, to allow drivers to get used to riders filtering alongside, by permitting filtering for the first few years only between vehicles that are stopped.
This would ease city congestion overnight during the riding season, and it would encourage riders to use their motorcycles as commuting vehicles instead of their cars, freeing up parking spaces and relieving air pollution.
Motorcycle parking on government property:
This is a simple one. Many parking lot operators already permit motorcycles to be parked at a reduced rate, or even at no charge. Please make it a policy to encourage motorcycle use through the provision of free parking in all government-owned lots. Bikes don’t take up much space, after all – there’s room to park three or four bikes in the same area it takes to park a car.
Displacement/horsepower limits for novice riders:
Unlike many other countries and jurisdictions, a learning rider in Canada is allowed to ride any motorcycle that he or she chooses. Similarly, a learning driver can drive any car; the limits to their power are decided only by the cost of their insurance policies. However, a novice rider can buy a used 600 cc sportbike for less than $10,000 – far more affordable than the equivalent performance in a car, and far more demanding to operate safely.
Ontario was the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce graduated licensing, in 1994, and the system has been very effective in easing new drivers and riders onto the road. But the system would be even more effective if it limits the power available to novice motorcycle riders. A horsepower limit of 50 hp for all riders with M1 or M2 licences, or at the least, a 500cc displacement limit, would help protect them from machines designed for more experienced riders.
We’re okay with the law that fines us $10,000 and seizes our motorcycle if we’re caught exceeding 50 km/h above the posted speed limit – well, we’re not really, but we understand it – but there are some additional definitions of “stunting” in Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act that are blatantly unreasonable. Among other things that make sense to prohibit (racing, drifting, driving in the opposing lane, etc.), Section 172 specifically prohibits “driving a motorcycle with only one wheel in contact with the ground, … (and) Driving a motor vehicle while the driver is not sitting in the driver’s seat.”
The intention of this law is fine, and before it took effect in 2007, wheelies and stunt riding were covered by charges of either dangerous driving or reckless driving. No problem there. However, now, if a police officer sees a bike accelerating and lifting its front wheel off the ground by just a hands-width, or a rider stretching his or her legs by standing up briefly on the pegs, they can be taken off the road.
Sure, we know the law was not written to prosecute these occurrences, but it’s there all the same at the sole discretion of the police, and it’s about as harsh as it can be. These clauses of Section 172 need to be rewritten to be more realistic.
We’ll just throw this one out there. Please – put some teeth in the law that prohibits loud pipes. Let bikes make some suitable sound, but get the police to take open-piped-machines off the road. They give all of us a bad rap.
Yours in hopeful anticipation,
Editor, Canada Moto Guide