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‘Stricter rules bicycle taxi’

1 May 2007 - New York has introduced stricter rules for bicycle taxis; France wants to allow cyclists to jump red lights and London found that it may in fact be safer to do so. Useful lessons for Amsterdam?

As a bicycle-friendly city, Amsterdam is often seen as an example for the rest of the world. However, lessons can be learned from other cities as well.

For example, Amsterdam recently decided to expand the number of locations where affordable ‘Public Transport Bicycles’ (OV-fietsen) can be rented. This is a small step in the direction of the successful Vélo’v project in Lyon. Throughout that city, bicycles can be rented almost for free.

Recently, Le Monde reported that the French cyclists’ organisation Mieux se déplacer à bicyclette (MDP) argues for a change in traffic regulations. For bicycles, a red light should mean ‘give way’ rather than ‘stop’.

In fact, this would amount to legalising the existing situation: in France too, many cyclists ‘happily’ ignore the red lights, writes the newspaper.

Would it be a good idea to allow Dutch cyclists to carefully jump red lights as well? Otto van Boggelen of the Fietsberaad, an expertise centre on cycling, has his doubts. At some crossings traffic lights can be safely ignored, but not at others.

It would be confusing to have different rules at different crossings. Also for parents who have to explain the rules to their children: “Now they can still say, red is red”. If many cyclists jump the lights at a specific crossing, it would be better to consider removing the traffic lights altogether, said Van Boggelen.

In Amsterdam, this is already current practice, explained Marjolein de Lange of cyclists’ organisation the Fietsersbond. “You might not think so, but the municipality really tries to reduce the number of traffic lights”. De Fietsersbond prefers a roundabout over traffic lights too, but there is not always enough room.

If it would be decided to allow cyclists to jump the lights, it should be communicated very clearly that they should give way to pedestrians as well, said De Lange. While cyclists generally do stop for cars, they sometimes overlook pedestrians. Especially for visually impaired pedestrians, this is a problem.

Incidentally, a study commissioned by Transport for London found that for the cyclists themselves, it may be safer to jump traffic lights. Women cyclists run a higher risk of being killed by lorries. The reason might be that when traffic lights are red, they remain standing in the blind spot of lorries waiting to turn left (cars drive on the left), instead of ignoring the traffic light.

The New York Municipality recently introduced stricter regulations for bicycle taxis. They must have good brakes and lights, must be insured, may no longer use electric motors, and may no longer use bicycle lanes. In addition, the number of pedicabs will be limited to 325, while some estimate that there are now 500 to 600.

Businesses located near Broadway had complained about congestions caused by bicycle taxis aggressively trying to attract customers among the theatre-goers. Many bicycle taxi drivers themselves found that some sort of regulation should be introduced, even though they find the current regulations excessive.

An independent bicycle taxi driver complained in the New York Post about fleet owners importing ‘foreign pedalers’ who ignore traffic regulations and give bicycle taxis a bad name. “It's like the Wild West out there. It's completely out of control”.

In Amsterdam, only 30 licenses for bicycle taxis have been issued, 15 of which are used by the Wielertaxi company, tells co-owner Richard Nijssen. In the future, he would like to expand to 20 to 25 bicycle taxis.

According to Nijssen, research shows that bicycle taxis mix well with normal bicycle traffic. “Only someone who is really in a hurry might get stressed if he cannot pass immediately”. Only if the number of bicycle taxis would grow substantially, stricter regulations might be needed, said Nijssen.

Nijssen does get occasional complaints about traffic violations. “Sometimes they have a high adrenaline level and they do sometimes jump red lights”, Nijssen said. “We advise anybody not to do this in busy traffic”.

At times, cyclists bump into a bicycle taxi if it brakes more abruptly than expected. According to Nijssen, this is not really a big issue: “During the three years I have been active as a bicycle taxi driver, I have had at most one incident involving angry cyclists per year”.

De Lange of the Fietsersbond paints a less positive picture. “We get quite a lot of complaints about bicycle taxis, especially about them blocking the way on narrow bicycle lanes. It so happens that bicycle taxis are wide and slow and they are active in the city centre where everything is narrow and tight”.

The Fietsersbond has not yet taken a stand on bicycle taxis, but if the number of licenses is to increase, there should be a debate. One might for example consider banning bicycle taxis from certain routes during rush hour, said De Lange.

She said it is conceivable that reducing car traffic in the city centre would create more room for bicycle taxis.

As yet, there seems to be no reason to introduce stricter rules on brakes. Wielertaxi’s bicycle taxis have brakes that were designed for motorcycles. According to Nijssen, you have to have good brakes, especially if you go down a bridge with a 150 kg taxi plus driver and passengers.

Wielertaxi’s taxis have a support motor. One can hardly do without in a city with so many bridges, said Nijssen. What is more, they use environmentally friendly electronic motors.

Sixty percent of bicycle taxi clients are tourists. In addition, there are Amsterdammers who consider the bicycle taxi a serious mode of transportation, claims Nijssen, among them people who are going out.

Bicycle taxis might come to play a more important role if regulations for regular taxis become stricter and when new technology becomes available, increasing the capacity of the batteries and making the taxis lighter without compromising comfort and safety.

More: Vélo’v, Transport for London, Indypendent, Rickshaw Forum


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