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Our message to city authorities: motorcycles are the answer!

We are riders. Therefore, we know how convenient a motorcycle is in urban traffic. I cannot repeat it enough: motorcycles are smaller, lighter, more agile than cars and therefore use less fuel, use less space, pollute less and cause less congestion.

Where car drivers have to suffer from traffic jams, motorcyclists can keep moving and once on their destination they have no or less trouble to park their bike. Recently many roads and a tunnel to the Brussels European Quarter were – as usual – closed off for a meeting of the EU Counsel. Car drivers reported a delay of one hour to get into town. My delay, even with my big clumsy touring bike, was just 10 minutes.

In 2014 FEMA performed its Mobility Test in several European cities. The outcome was clear: in all situations the motorcycle was faster than cars, public transport and bicycles. You can read the report here. We all know this and riders in all countries keep telling this to the authorities: motorcycles are faster, use less, pollute less and use less parking space. We do this in all possible ways: we write them letters, go visiting them, we go on the streets, sometimes even with thousands of riders together like we did in Paris earlier this year. You would imagine that the message would be delivered and the authorities would understand it by now. But do they?

Sometimes it even looks like some battle against motorcycles has started. Recently several FEMA associated national organisations reported limitations on motorcycling from local authorities. In Paris older motorcycles are banned during week days from 8:00 to 20:00 and in a few years even newer motorcycles (all before 2016) will be banned on reasons of pollution. Other French cities have announced plans to do the same.

In London they have invented something that is called ULEZ, what stands for Ultra Low Emission Zone. The city council of London plans to have riders of pre-Euro 3 motorcycles (ì.e. they were built before 1st July 2007) pay 12.5 pounds when they enter the ULEZ. Which by the way will be extended to the area between the North and South Circular roads, the so-called Greater London area. In Stockholm and other Swedish cities mandatory paid motorcycle parking is introduced, with fees that can be as much for mopeds as for cars.

It looks like some cities in the Netherlands are following this example. Several cities in the Netherlands have introduced paid parking for motorcycles, in one town even only on a few dedicated paid parking areas motorcycle parking is allowed. More cities have plans to introduce paid parking for motorcycles. In Amsterdam mopeds built before 1st January 2011 will be banned from 1st January 2018. Owners of a four-stroke engine moped built after 1st January 2008 can get an exclusion from this. In Norway paid parking for motorcycles is already normal. In Italy more and more city centres are closed for motorcycles, especially those with two-stroke engines. A full view of all measures can be found here:

Honesty compels me to mention that other cities still make exemptions for motorcycles: no restrictions for motorcycles (yet) in the German and Dutch low emission zones, no congestion charges in Oslo, Stockholm and Göteborg. In most European cities you can still park your motorbike free of charges. Still, the growing amount of measures to toll or ban motorcycles of inner cities is disturbing. Of course, city councils have to meet demands to have cleaner air. But the solution here is not to ban motorcycles, not even to ban old motorcycles. Motorcycles, even old motorcycles are not the source of the problem, but are part of the solution. And yes, motorcycles can and should be cleaner, so we have to work on that. To phase out older motorcycles just by forbidding them to enter the city is an easy way to get rid of them, but there is a reason many people still have older bikes. Either they hardly use them, so by banning them you solve nothing. Or they just cannot afford a new bike and by ban or toll their bikes they are the most hurt.

If authorities want to phase out older motorcycles, there are other ways that hurt less. Like a scrap program. That has been done for old cars, so why not for old motorcycles? To solve your congestion problems by banning or tolling motorcycles, or to pester their owners with parking restrictions, isn’t a smart idea either. It is easy to understand, that city councils want everybody to use public transport, bicycles or to walk. Public transport is good, but you don’t have that everywhere, even in the cities, and the capacity and the network need to meet the demand. It also often isn’t an achievable solution for commuters from outside the city. Cycling is healthy and a good way to reach your destination. Personally I’m a great fan of cycling, but this is not always an achievable solution too. Motorcycles, powered two-wheelers in general, often can provide in this and therefore are part of the solution to congestion, next to walking, cycling and public transport.

Instead of making the use of motorcycles more difficult and expensive the city authorities should facilitate the use of motorcycles: let them use the bus lanes, this is also a way to enhance road safety. Let motorcycles take position in front of the line at traffic lights, like often is done now with bicycles. Create free parking spaces. Everybody who has ever been to a city like Rome knows how many motorcycles can be parked in a relatively small area. Exempt motorcycles from congestion toll. Create an infrastructure for charging electric motorcycles and scooters. Facilitate sharing systems for small (electric) motorcycles.

And when you still do not want motorcycles in your city there are better ways to discourage them then bans, tolls and parking fees. Create park&ride facilities for motorcycles, with lockers and a secure parking space. I wouldn’t mind much to switch from motorcycle to public transport at the border of Brussels, it is not a hobby for me to grapple with wet cobblestones, potholes and overcrowded roads, but now it’s just not possible. Smarter ways of public transport are good too. City authorities: use your imagination to solve your problems, but do not pester motorcyclists who come into your city to work, to study, to visit family and friends or to spent their money in your shops and restaurants.

Written by Dolf Willigers