Earlier this month, cyclists in Tokyo were confronted with news that the metropolitan government was considering a number of new regulations on ownership of two-wheelers. One proposed a system of mandatory registration, including the affixing of a license plate. Another proposed payment of a deposit to be collected at the time of purchase.
Weekly Playboy (Oct 1), whose editorial policies lean toward the anti-authoritarian, dispatched a reporter to city hall to investigate what the government is up to.
“At present, it hasn’t yet come to the stage where we are considering an ordinance,” explained a worker at the traffic safety division. “From last May, we organized a discussion group called the ‘Metropolitan Tokyo Bicycle Consulting Group,’ composed of opinion leaders and various members of society, who will look into certain problems. One of the topics that came up in their deliberations was a requirement to put license plates on bicycles. In the future this may become one of an number of policies affecting bicycles.”
In other words, the magazine explains, no time frame has been set for the law’s adoption. But what is the likelihood that the consulting group will try to ram it through?
Things appear moving in that direction. One of the reasons why such a law was proposed in the first place was the soaring number of traffic accidents involving collisions between bicycles and buses. Growing numbers of public buses are equipped with cameras, and by requiring bicycles to affix license plates measuring 5 by 15 centimeters—whose numbers would be large enough for the cameras to record—it is argued that determining the causes of these accidents would be facilitated.
Another justification for license plates on two-wheelers would be for crime prevention, as the number of purse snatchings by cyclists has been on the rise.
But crooks aboard scooters and motorcycles have found ways to get around this by bending or otherwise obscuring their license plates to render them invisible to the victims, and it can be assumed that bicycle riders bent on theft would adopt the same tricks.
As for deposits paid at the time of purchase, those in favor justify it by noting that a similar law is already in force for large home appliances and automobiles, to cover eventual recycling costs. This system, they argue, should be adopted for bicycles as well.
“It may also discourage the people who wantonly discard bicycles they no longer want,” a source was quoted as saying.
Weekly Playboy’s counterargument is that such a law in effect punishes responsible owners for the actions of a few troublemakers.
A law requiring number plates raises numerous questions. For instance, how would this work with people who ride their bicycles into Tokyo from neighboring prefectures not having a similar system? And what about Tokyoites who purchase mail-order bicycles from outlying prefectures?
Upon investigation, the magazine found that eventually the law would affect not only sales of new bicycles but would cover older models as well. And people who bring in two-wheelers from outside the metropolis would be required to register them, probably at any authorized bicycle shop.
Whatever is eventually decided, the sheer scale of the project will be staggering. Tokyo presently has 6.4 million households, of which approximately one in 10, or 640,000 people, purchase a new bicycle each year. In addition to the red tape this would generate, it must be assumed that to enforce such regulations, a means of penalizing riders of non-registered bicycles will have to be implemented, probably through setting up of roadside checkpoints. Naturally enforcement will entail increased costs, which of course will be borne by the poor, oppressed taxpayers.
Members of the consulting group who ride bicycles are arguing that the issue deserves careful debate and stress that ultimately such a system is unlikely to prove effective. Weekly Playboy hopes these voices of reason do not fall upon deaf ears.