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City bike licencing is unenforceable—look at bike couriers

February 26, 2016

A Fairview bike courier. Maybe his licence plate is on his helmet (wherever that is).

Is having a courier plate and licence really still a necessity to work as a bicycle courier (aka a bicycle messenger) in the city of Vancouver, B.C.?

City Councillor Melissa De Genova’s unsuccessful October 2015 motion calling on the the City of Vancouver to begin licencing all bicycles reminded me that bicycle couriers, at least, were already required to buy and display licences, but that I almost never saw the telltale little plates on the bikes of couriers working along and around the Fairview part of West Broadway Avenue.

There's something missing from this photo and I don't mean the bike courier.

Something’s missing from this photo and I don’t mean just the bike courier.

Friday (February 26) I saw one of those Fairview bike couriers and ran through the visual checklist: Courier-type bicycle, yup! Courier-type bag, uh-huh! Courier-type two-way radio, affirmative! Courier plate, negatory!

The City of Vancouver still talks about the need for cycling-related business licences and licence plates:

“In order to operate a business where you can use your bike, cycling skills, and knowledge of the City streets, you will first need to apply for a Vehicles for Hire license.”

The city’s stipulation for bike couriers, specifically refers to them working for licensed courier companies. Would-be couriers must be 19 years of age or older, pay $36 to take a written test and (if they pass the test) buy a courier plate for the annual fee of $16 and display said shingle prominently on the back of their bicycles, under the seat.

On the subject of licenses and bike couriers, the city’s Vehicles for Hire By-law #6066, sections 15 (1) and (2) states:

“No license shall be issued to a person to operate a courier bicycle until that person has successfully completed a written examination and a practical examination approved by the Inspector, and has paid an examination fee.

The Inspector shall furnish a numbered plate to every person qualifying for a license to operate a courier bicycle, which plate shall be attached to the bicycle operated by such person at the rear of the seat so that it is in a horizontal position and is clearly visible from behind the bicycle.  Such plate is non-transferable and remains the property of the City, and shall be surrendered to the Inspector on the expiration, revocation or suspension of the license corresponding to it”.

There’s nothing in the bylaw that actually says it’s illegal to work as a bike courier and not display a courier plate.

There’s even chatter on the bikemessengers subreddit to the effect that the rule about Vancouver bike courier needing licences is no longer necessarily observed by the courier companies or enforced by the city.


Whatever the exact number of bike couriers working in Vancouver is these days, it’s sure to be small–according to 24 Hours Vancouver, in 2012, there were only 87 bike couriers registered with Vancouver City Hall.

How could anyone, Councillor De Genova included, imagine that the city would be interested in (or capable of) licencing cyclists across-the-board, if it can’t even manage to enforce the existing licencing requirements on so small a group as bike couriers? Click the image to enlarge it.

From → Bicycles, Fairview

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