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Licenses, loopholes and legality

When I was 14 and working on my Cycling merit badge, one of the requirements was that the bicycle meet all legal requirements. Being in Boy Scout Troop 212 of Long Beach, that meant getting my bike licensed. I remember the Saturday morning that my father gave me a dollar and sent me down to the local fire station to get my license. I paid my dollar, filled out a form and signed a yellow piece of paper. I was legal. The end.

Since then I can count no-less-than 23 bicycles that I have had licensed. I currently have 4 bicycles, all of which are licensed pursuant LBMC 10.50.020 – within the past 2 years.

Or so I thought.

I’ve made some calls recently trying to get to the bottom of this bicycle license program. Major cities across the country are disbanding their programs, and I have personally witnessed the racial/class profiling that Long Beach’s license program is used for. I can’t get any straight answers as to what the real purpose of the program is supposed to be.


Myth #1 – for cyclists to pay their way.

  • According to the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA), 92% of the funds for local roads–the ones most often used by cyclists–come from property, income, and sales taxes. Bicyclists pay these taxes just like everyone else does.
  • FWHA calculates that 92% of federal highway funds come from user fees. But 8% come the general fund, so even a bicyclist who owns no car contributes to federal highway funds, too.
  • Many services associated with the roadways are paid out of general tax funds. Examples: police, fire and ambulance services, traffic court, subsidized parking. A typical household pays a few hundred dollars per year towards such services. Bicyclists pay for a share of these services just like everyone else does.
  • Bicycles have a very low impact on the roadway. One study found that bicycles impose about 0.2 cents per mile in roadway costs. Bicyclist pay no user fees so the entire 0.2 cents/mile comes from the general tax fund.
    Myth #2 – to stop theft

    When you take your bicycle to a Fire Station on Saturday between 9am-Noon, the firefighter does not check the serial number of the bike against the database. According to April Tomecko at LBFD, the firefighters that do the licensing do not even have access to the database.  

    The form is filled out and at some point sent to headquarters, who then sends it to the Police Department, who are then supposed to enter the information in to a database for State and local agencies to access. Not until the final step would a theft be noticed – and then it is up to a detective to take up the case and track down the bike and individual.

    When I spoke to Dorothy Nulk at the Long Beach Police Department – Child Protective Services (the department within the PD that handles bike licensing administration), I had to talk her through the process of getting a bicycle licensed. She said that she had access to the database and offered to run my name. Sounds fun, lets do it.

    No record found.

    How can that be? I have four bikes that are current, and they don’t pop up. Not only are the bikes missing, but so is any record of my name. Not one bike I have ever licensed has gotten in to the database. I have my yellow copies of the 4-sheet carbon transfer registration slip – I have them laminated – they don’t expire until December 31, 2009 – they don’t exist in the system.

    California Vehicle Code 39005.
    Cities and counties having a bicycle licensing ordinance or resolution shall maintain records of each bicycle registered. Such records shall include, but not be limited to, the license number, the serial number of the bicycle, the make and type, of the bicycle, and the name and address of the licensee.
    Records shall be maintained by the licensing agency during the period of validity of the license or until notification that the bicycle is no longer to be operated.
    Amended Ch. 947, Stats. 1973. Effective January 1, 1974.

    Long Beach does not HAVE TO require bikes to be licensed, but since they do, the State requires them to keep a record of the above mentioned information. In my case, the City is not keeping up its end of the bargain. Can I write the City a ticket?

    Thanks to Dr. Brent Hugh at StLRBF for tax data.


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    5 Responses to “Licenses, loopholes and legality”


    • Comment from bmckeever

      Thank you for your comment! We are working really hard to get all of you good information.

      -Bernadette

    • Comment from Dan Gutierrez

      Bicycle Licensing is a money loser for Cities, and has been for some time. The nominal fee paid for a license, which was set decades ago has not been updated, so it comes as no surpise that there is no well defined process, or personnel in LB who are responsible for keeping the database current.

      Bicycle licensing at best is an annoyance and money loser for cities, at worst is is used as a tool by local police to harass city residents, since bicycle licenses are only valid in the city of issuance and only then for residents per CVC 39002(a):

      CVC 39002(a) A city or county, which adopts a bicycle licensing ordinance or resolution, may provide in the ordinance or resolution that no resident shall operate any bicycle, as specified in the ordinance, on any street, road, highway, or other public property within the jurisdiction of the city or county, as the case may be, unless the bicycle is licensed in accordance with this division.

      This means that a resident of Signal Hill or Seal Beach who may do most of their riding in Long Beach is not required to have a license in Long Beach! This is idiotic to say the least. There should either be uniform and properly funded statewide licensing, or none at all. Feudal city licensing as specified in the CVC 39000 series laws is a form of pre-industrial age thinking.

    • [...] investigated the issue of bike registration and thoroughly debunked the myth of its usefulness. Check out his important post here. This is why other major cities have scuttled their bike registration programs, and why Long Beach [...]

    • Comment from Allan

      The thing is the police force doesn’t know the CVC regarding bike licensing either. Take for example Sergeant Zapalski statement in the local paper.

      Sergeant Dina Zapalski of the Long Beach Police Department – Zapalski explained that it is the law to have your bicycle registered with the City of Long Beach if you are riding within city limits.

      She needed to include that “resident” part of CVC 39002(a) to make her quote valid.

    • Comment from Allan

      ddougherty, I read your post earlier on BikingInLA. I thought I’d do this for myself and help support your argument regarding how bad the LB licensing program is. The only thing is, I happen to be in their system and they found me! Let me explain what I did. After reading your post I thought I’d test this our for myself. So I got a real crappy bike and registered it at the local fire station. Then I proceeded to get it stolen. So after about a month from when I registered the bike, I called up Youth Services at 570-1447. I’m not sure if they experienced a name change from “Child Protective Services” or if it’s two different departments. But yeah, I even talked to Dorothy Nulk at one point. I was transferred to her when I guess I was asking too many questions about their system. Regardless, I was in their database with this bike.

      Now this isn’t an argument for keeping this system. I’m just stating my experience. I truly did want to have an experience like you did, but it didn’t happen. Personally if they just get rid of the system, it’d make me quite happy. At the very least make it optional. As was stated above, it’s a money losing system. And going through the system, I wholeheartedly agree.


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