The L.A. Bicycle License Controversy

Recently, in Legally Speaking, we reported on proposals in  Portland and Seattle to implement bicycle taxes, and expanded on that Legally Speaking column in our blog post "A Bicycle Tax?" In  response to that blog post, reader Rich Wilson raised some questions about a controversy brewing in Los Angeles over recent enforcement efforts:

When that Seattle Times article came up, a list I subscribe to discussed various rider and bike registration fees. Someone reported that LA has a bike registration (I think it's $4?) and that the police will ticket you for it ($161 fine?), but that it's pretty hard to actually get a registration, as they only sell them a few hours of the week. Anyone from LA have more info? Any advice, Bob, for how one might fight such a thing in court? It doesn't sound like something your avarege citizen could successfully argue in traffic court.

We looked into it, and just as Rich reported, there has indeed been at least one ticket issued for riding an unlicensed bike. Here's what happened.

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A bicycle tax?

(NOTE: This entry is the full-length version of Death, taxes riders?  originally published as a Legally Speaking column on December 19, 2008)


Benjamin Franklin once observed that there is nothing certain in this world but death and taxes. In our own time, we’ve observed that when it comes to the subject of cyclists, it’s all but certain that non-cyclists will bring up scofflaws and taxes.

In the past few weeks, the subject of taxes—specifically, taxes on bicycles—has come up once again. On November 12, Bikeportland reported that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (a bicycle advocacy organization based in Portland, Oregon) and Metro (the regional government for the Portland metropolitan area) both support a recommendation by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski’s Transportation Vision Committee to create a “point-of-sale excise tax on the purchase of adult bicycles.” The proposed excise tax—a fee in the range of $5-$20 per bike—“should be used to enhance bicycle transportation, including Safe Routes to Schools.”

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