Minister for Transport Shane Ross on Thursday stepped back from the brink of banning a type of bicycle while trying to deal with problematic issues around the use of rickshaws.
The full ban was outlined in a speech to the Joint Transport Committee, which was published on Wednesday in advance on the Departments of Transport’s website.
Human powered or pedal-assisted rickshaws where the motor cuts out at 25km/h are viewed as bicycles under EU law adopted in Ireland.
Dealing with how rickshaws come under different types of vehicle classes, Minister Ross said: “As we know, there are different types of rickshaw – some are pedal-powered and some have a motor. The NTA advises that pedal powered rickshaws can easily be converted to motorised. Within minutes in fact, by attaching a small motor to the back axel. The motor can be removed just as quickly.”
Discussing a ban added: “Enforcement should also be less resource-intensive – the NTA would not need extra staff. And Gardaí could be empowered to act decisively when coming upon a rickshaw on a public road. After a transition period, it seems likely that rickshaws would disappear from our streets.”
Minister Ross said: “Given the very small proportion of the market being served by rickshaws, the preferred approach is to opt for an outright ban.” The minister claimed that regulation would be too costly.
He said he will consult with the Office of the Attorney General and expects announce his decision before the end of this Dáil term.
Attempts by IrishCycle.com on Wednesday evening to get comment from the Department of Transport on the issue of ministerial intent of banning a type of bicycle was met with references to the Minister’s speech and a comment from a spokesman that “no decisions have been made yet”.
On Thursday morning, on RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke radio show, the minister downplayed the idea of an outright vehicle-type ban.
On air, Minister Ross referenced Cycling Without Age — a group which uses volunteers to cycle nursing home residents in their communities — as one of the reasons to be more focused on the “commercial use” aspect of the problematic rickshaws.
However, Minister Ross still seems to be planning to ban the use such bicycles for passenger hire — a ban on rickshaws as described by the minister would exclude all pedal-taxi type of solutions which are both seen as environmental friendly and seem as of growing importance for wider use in cities which expand traffic restrictions and the size of pedestrianed areas, as in planned in Dublin.
ANALYSIS: Is it cost or indifference?
In Ross’ speech he said that he was “surprised when the majority– at 54% – supported an outright ban” on rickshaws, but surely his advisors have told the minister that the consultant on rickshaws didn’t interest many people. Besides taxi drivers who have lobbied hard to try to get rickshaws banned.
If anything, with the strong focus the taxi lobby had on the public consultation, it’s a surprise that regulation was favoured by 38%.
Seasoned radio presenter Sean O’Rourke was quick to not let the minister away with the idea that the link between drug dealing and rickshaws was somehow an issue for the Department of Transport. It’s clearly ministerial overreach — something the minister in question is well known for.
Very few people want to speak up for rickshaws. This is understandable given the issues around a lack of regulation and enforcement.
But Ross’ reasoning for not regulating is weak, and some of the reasoning he gives is deeply flawed. Letting it stand could have wider effects than just the short-term problems of troublesome rickshaw.
It could be viewed as showing his advisors and some department officials lack a full understanding of vehicle type law. However, it’s far more likely that they are just indifferent — just as many officials are indifferent to cycling law generally and see cycling as an nuisance from the main focus of cars and trucks.
The perceived issues with inability to regulate rickshaws really mostly relates to an unwilling to enforce the laws that are already in place.
Any rickshaw which is a bicycle (including those which are pedal-assisted) is subjected to fines… and any rickshaw which is fully motorised or is pedal-assisted above 25km/h is a motor vehicle and already outright banned. Use of a motor vehicle to carry passengers for money is illegally running a taxi, and illegally driving without insurance and the other requirements for driving.
The idea that riders of rickshaws could install and uninstall a motor between the time Gardai pull over the rider and when the Gardai step off their motorcycle or out of their patrol cars is not credible.
Minister Ross praising Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster will be viewed by many as showing that Ross’s move on this issue is at least partly motivated by politics and related to Sinn Féin’s support for Ross on other issues.
His intent is not clear, but what is clear is that talk of an inability to regulate is more about a lack of interest to do so, not some great cost. Huge costs would only come from expecting rickshaws be unrealistically regulated like taxis pushed on by hyped up danger.
Trying to ban rickshaws by vehicle type or commercial use of them would likely have wider effects than just ban problematic rickshaws — anybody claiming otherwise has a poor understanding of the law or a disregard for cycling issues.