Until recently, Britain did not have a National Motorcycle Strategy (NMS). So, its unveiling by David Jamieson, the Road Safety Minister, was eagerly anticipated - until it happened.
Until recently, Britain did not have a National Motorcycle Strategy (NMS). So, its unveiling by David Jamieson, the Road Safety Minister, was eagerly anticipated - until it happened. What emerged is proof that no aspect of Government policy can escape the Blairite addiction to warm words signifying little. Jamieson said his strategy is "designed to ensure the mainstreaming of motorcycling as a means of transport". Five years of consultation with the bike industry has produced tepid waffle.
It is nice that the minister believes planning and infrastructure decisions should take motorcycling into account, but nothing in the NMS obliges them to do so. Nor will his encouragement to car drivers to "look out" for bikes make any difference next time a semi-comatose salesman fails to check his mirrors. The motorcycle test will be reviewed yet again; particularly the Direct Access Scheme that allows adults to graduate to large bikes in a single step. But while this is inoffensive, it points to a central flaw: the Government still regards motorcycle safety as primarily the responsibility of motorcyclists. If that were true, fewer riders would be killed each year.
This is the case ministers should consider. At the beginning of the 1990s, barely 50,000 new scooters and motorcycles were registered annually in the UK. In the past five years, new registrations have varied between 106,000 and 124,000 per year. The overwhelming majority of these machines are bought as a serious means of transport, not a toy. Motorcycles are increasingly used as a fuel-efficient means of cutting journey times and avoiding parking expense. Riding to work is, at last, being recognised as an environmentally friendly improvement on the tedium of commuting by car.
To a Government ostensibly committed to the Kyoto accords and keen to prevent gridlock, this ought to matter.
One piece of pathetic decision-dodging is the question of allowingmotorcyclists to ride in bus lanes. Ministers have spent as much time searching for evidence that this would be contrary to the public interest. They have failed to find any.
If Mr Jamieson believed in putting motorcycling at the heart of transport policy, he would not have hesitated to open bus lanes to bikes. Instead, he sat on the fence. Similar procrastination has stalled plans for a national register of post-test rider-trainers, and Government funding for the successful Bikesafe programme.
The NMS does nothing to encourage motorcycling or to make it safer. Consequently, it does nothing to reduce fuel-consumption or congestion. But it does offer a glimmer of opportunity. The Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCIA) responded diplomatically, recognising the NMS as a foundation upon which policies may be built. If that is the Government's intention, it should consider the potential benefits to the environment and the economy alongside naked self-interest.
Research compiled by the MCIA reveals that a high proportion of motorcyclists will consider motorcycle and transport policies before deciding which party to support at the election. The message ought to be plain, even to a Government accustomed to bizarre circumlocution. Encouraging motorcycling can attract support while contributing to a sustainable transport policy. In this crowded little island, two-wheels are certainly good.
The Government does not need to call four-wheels bad to show it understands. It simply has to stop treating bikers as if we are silly children who can be fobbed off with platitudes. We have votes and we don't want to be "mainstreamed". We want to be listened to and we deserve to be, because we have already switched to small, sustainable vehicles that make the tiniest cars look greedy.Reuse content