Opinion: Smart politics

The piece of legislation was buried in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, tough to find even if you knew to look for it. Regulation 630 made a mockery of Harley-Davidson’s Livewire and other electric motorcycles by forbidding them on the province’s controlled-access highways – Highway 401 and 400 and the like. Bicycles aren’t allowed, or mopeds, or wheelchairs, which is fair enough, but up until last Thursday afternoon, nor was “a motorcycle driven by electricity stored in the vehicle.”

Harley-Davidson’s Livewire would not have been allowed on Ontario’s controlled-access highways next year under the recent legislation.

“Regulation 630 was put in 35 years ago, basically as a safety issue. At the time, electric vehicles did not have the range or the speed to safely be on controlled-access highways,” said Paul Demers. “It was to make sure we wouldn’t have these types of vehicles littered along the sides, and people abandoning them, looking for help and stuff like that.”

Demers is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for Canada’s Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council (MMIC), and he says it wasn’t as straightforward as you’d think to remove the regulation from the books.

When he spotted it late last year, he says he asked for a meeting with the Liberal transport minister, Steven Del Duca, but got nowhere. Two months later, Kathryn McGarry was appointed transport minister, but she wouldn’t take a meeting to discuss it. When the Doug Ford Tories were elected in the summer, however, the process began with new minister John Yakabuski, and when he was shuffled out recently in favour of Jeff Yurek, it was a simple process to see through.

“Under the new government, it took six months, but I’ll give them the first couple of months to find out where the washrooms are, and find some staff,” said Demers. “Realistically, everything happened within two months.”

Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, Jeff Yurek – is he really a biker at heart?

In fact, the decision was made a few weeks ago, but the conservative government wanted to include it in last week’s announcement of some 25 or so regulations it’s just killed or amended to remove red tape. In this case, it’s been amended to allow electric motorcycles made in 2009 or later, and with a power output of at least 11 kW. In Harley’s case, the Livewire has an output of five times that.

Wait, what? Hang on – Ontario’s new conservative government wants to do away with overlooked regulations that are now just stupid? Did Premier Doug Ford read my open letter to him back in July? What about – brace yourself – motorcycles being allowed to ride in Ontario’s HOV lanes at last?

This is, after all, the dumbest of dumb rules in Ontario: High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes are reserved for vehicles with two or more people on board. This is solely to beat congestion, by providing an incentive for commuters to car-pool. This sounds great, but unlike anywhere else in the world, single riders on motorcycles in Ontario are not allowed to use them, despite taking up very little space in the road – certainly less space than a car with two people. There are exceptions for hybrid-electric vehicles with solitary drivers, and for some people on the QEW prepared to pay for the access, but not for single motorcyclists.

Hwy. 404 leaving Toronto and heading north to Markham and Richmond Hill – motorcycles in the HOV lanes without passengers will be ticketed.

Might this new government finally accept that the provincial Liberals screwed up when they opened the first HOV lanes in 2005 and excluded single motorcyclists from using them?

Demers said it’s already being considered.

“Just today (last Friday), I was guided to the right people to talk to,” he said. “The minister’s office is very happy to hear of anything that can be removed that doesn’t make any sense. We do believe that we’ll have a case with regards to HOV lanes, to allow single riders to use and access HOV lanes.

“We just need to find out if it’s a regulation change, or if it’s an amendment to a piece of legislation, which is more complicated. If it’s just a regulation that can be changed with the signature of a minister, then certainly, we’ll be demanding this is done before the start of spring.”

Wow! At last! The truly impressive thing is that neither Doug Ford nor Jeff Yurek have motorcycle licences – I’d always assumed it would take a motorcyclist as Transport Minister to sympathize with our concerns.

This is the way it should be, in California, and how it will be next spring if the MMIC gets its way.

I got excited and asked if the MMIC would also champion the removal of helmet laws (which would be dumb) or the acceptance of lane-splitting. Demers said helmet laws are a non-starter because all the OEMs design their motorcycles to be ridden by riders with helmets – fair enough – but lane-splitting…

“We’re still a way from the cultural shift of lane-splitting,” said Demers, and then David Grummet, the MMIC’s director of communications, chipped in.

“We have been working on this with Toronto Vision Zero – that’s more on a municipal level,” said Grummett, referring to the experimental program in Toronto. “But we’ll cross one bridge at a time and go for the HOV lanes before we ever mention lane-splitting on highways.”

That’s fine with me. I’m still over the moon on perhaps being allowed to ride my motorcycle in the HOV lanes come the spring, like everywhere else in the world. And when I do, it can even be on an electric bike. The times are changing. It’s good, at last, to see some politicians changing with them.

6 thoughts on “Opinion: Smart politics”

  1. It’s a step in the right direction that government actually responded to a reasonable request to meet from a public organization (at least one that didn’t offer a significant financial contribution first).

    Have any tickets for riding solo in HOV lanes actually been issued in Ontario?
    I would think simple common sense from the OPP with a bit of justified civil disobedience from riders would render this a moot point.

  2. Now if the MMIC could just prod them into the motor vehicle insurance inquiry and premium cuts that the last Ontario provincial government promised…?

  3. ” Demers said helmet laws are a non-starter because all the OEMs design their motorcycles to be ridden by riders with helmets – fair enough ”

    WTF does that mean? In what way are motorcycles designed to be ridden by riders with helmets, or without? AFAIK pretty much all bikes can be ridden just as well without a helmet as with one. Not that I want to, but that’s just a silly argument. A better argument would be that a vast majority of Canadians, including riders, support helmet laws and the use of helmets, and trying to fight helmet laws would be a complete waste of whatever resources and political capital they’ve got.

    It’s like the guy who’s now claiming that the law allowing Sikhs to ride helmetless is racist and discriminatory, and wants to fight it in court. He’s completely right, but it’s not something I care about enough to bother supporting with my hard earned dollars.

  4. When referring to a person in power who can influence an outcome you are lobbying for, it is a good idea to spell that persons name correctly, especially when you omit the “u” from someone named Doug.

Join the conversation!