Lembit Öpik and Colin Brown – MAG’s Political Unit review of 2020: progress in a challenging year.
MAG have fought for riders’ rights throughout 2020, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been challenges both old and new, but we believe we have made significant progress and extended our influence.
Off to a flying start
The year started with us talking about Boris’ parliamentary majority and his Christmas present. Our output aimed at optimism for a new decade. MAG’s message? – Put motorcycling back into the heart of transport policy.
We responded to announcements of increased funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The needs of motorcyclists wanting to choose electric must not be forgotten in a world that seems to think electrification is only about cars. Despite suggestions to the contrary MAG supports all forms of motorcycling. Regardless of what gets your motor running, if it’s got a motor and two wheels it’s a motorcycle.
February kicked off with news of earlier dates for the so called ban of internal combustion engines. We quickly established, and reported, that the announced plans did not include motorcycles. To be precise the phase out is of petrol and diesel engines, not necessarily the internal combustion principle. This has been an ongoing story and debate throughout the year. The culmination was an announcement that the end of the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans will be brought forward to 2030. We established that motorcycles are currently not in scope for this announcement.
It is worth repeating here that MAG is opposed to a ban on the sale of petrol (or if you so wish diesel) motorcycles. We are not opposed to progress, but blunt policies that restrict legitimate choices do not fit with the MAG ethos. The government don’t like us to use the word ban. But they fail to clarify the exact mechanism they propose will lead to the “end of the sale” of new petrol and diesel cars and vans.
Lembit has spent time developing a campaign known as ‘Choice In Personal Transport (CHIPT). The logic is to create a campaign that is not motorcycle specific, and thus can be supported by a broad range of groups including Fair Fuel UK and the Alliance of British Drivers. Many MPs support the underlying principles. This campaign will grow in the year ahead.
As we moved into March, Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) hit the work stream for the political unit. With the announcement of a major overhaul, and knowing how much bikers hate the current system, we put our thinking caps on. MAG came up with an elegant solution – a weight based approach. We submitted our response in June and await the outcome of the Treasury’s deliberations.
Brakes applied – but not at MAG
On 23rd of March the country entered lockdown, but the political unit continued working.
Days later there were quiet announcements of consultation on a Transport Decarbonisation Plan. We immediately ensured that MAG were listed as stakeholders. Failure to mention motorcycles as a solution is a mistake. Part of our response has been the publication of our Motorcycle Carbon Emissions paper in June. The paper highlights the emissions cost of failing to support motorcycling as a transport solution.
March also saw the launch of the DfT’s Future of Transport Regulatory Review. We saw this as a key opportunity to influence policy. E-scooters have two wheels and a motor. Clearly then, thinking on these things has natural links to what we would call motorcycles. Grant Shapps took the view that trials for e-scooters should be brought forward. They would be great to get transport moving after the lockdown. So a rushed consultation on trials led to a cart and horse situation. Before the regulatory review consultation had ended, trials began. MAG responded to both consultations.
April saw news breaking of a distinct anti-motorcycle bias in Oxfordshire. Deep seated prejudices were exposed when they stated that motorcyclists are a danger to themselves. The ensuing furore led to the Oxfordshire County Council publishing a modified version of the document that went some way to addressing complaints. More importantly it led to promises that MAG would be given access to the drafting process of the new transport plan. The work on this has only just begun, but we have ensured that the promise has not been forgotten.
The Oxfordshire episode also saw the first steps in a process that led to the formation of the Coalition of Motorcycling Organisations (COMO). MAG, BMF and the Trail Riders Fellowship all saw common purpose in the Oxfordshire campaign. We collaborated on the efforts to get the Council to climb down from its blatantly biased position.
Against the background of a trendy phrase – new normal – May saw the stirrings of what was to become a significant campaign for MAG. We were quick to criticise the lack of consideration for motorcycling as a transport solution in the process of easing the lockdown. Should we need to issue press releases just because a minister responsible for transport actually used the word motorcycle in public?
As cycle lanes ‘popped’ up and ‘planters’ were placed in roads, chaos seemed to be let loose. Consultation and common sense were thrown out with the bath water as local authorities rushed to spend central government money.
COMO was expanding with more interested groups coming together. In mid-May the Coalition issued a white paper calling on the Government to recognise the benefits of motorcycling as a Covid-safe transport mode. The paper also presented the first version of guidelines to help riders reduce spread of the virus.
Keeping up the good work
In the middle of all this we ran the Ride To Work Day campaign. Following the industry decision to drop the campaign in 2019, MAG got ratification to take on the promotion of the international campaign in the UK. There was much uncertainty during the planning process. MAG decided to run the campaign regardless, and whilst it was overshadowed by the pandemic, the campaign was a success. We used it to launch our Filter Friendly campaign, and will be looking for a bigger and better event in 2021.
Once Ride To Work Day was over we chose to redouble our efforts to get the government to engage on the subject of including motorcycles in policy. There are blindingly obvious benefits to riding a motorcycle rather than using public transport or a car to avoid infection. We called on all our members to write to their MPS with three very simple demands. You all got writing and finally came some cut through.
As the letter writing campaign ramped up we published the second annual Police Force Bike Theft Rankings in early July. The findings were stark with London having twice the theft rate of the next worst police force area. There were also uncomfortable truths uncovered about the quality of the reported data.
By mid-July we were able to report that the three demands campaign was beginning to gain traction. A series of meetings with department officials began. On 28th July the DfT announced a consultation on a review of the Highway Code. Regardless of all the other progress we had to make a very assertive intervention. We expressed outrage that the review totally failed to consider the interests of motorcyclists. Whatever your views on the hierarchy concept being proposed, the blatant neglect in failing to even mention motorcyclists as a vulnerable road user group left the Department officials with nowhere to hide. They were trying to claim that they care about motorcycling – this gaffe was as badly timed as it could be. Bad for them, serendipitous for us. By September we were in a formal meeting with the DfT receiving an invitation to join the DfT’s Road Safety Delivery Group (RSDG).
November saw the publication of MAG analysis on vulnerable road user safety. Colin was also interviewed for a podcast entitled “Motorcycles – the forgotten mode of transport”. Combined with Colin’s place as a panellist on the Festival of Road Safety live Question Time event, MAG’s influence is clear in a key area for transport policy makers. MAG is not a road safety organisation, but we certainly need to state our opinions in this arena.
No to intellectual self-isolation
Lobbying in MAG is not all about two people. We support the efforts of local members. Two examples: In Northern Ireland we supported Martyn Boyd’s excellent work on wire rope barriers. The level of engagement with the Northern Ireland Assembly is a triumph. Similarly Steve Mallet and friends have worked on noise related complaints in Rye. Steve’s engagement with local councillors and others is a shining example of how MAG members can work for the benefit of all motorcyclists.
MAG does not work in isolation as a lobby group. We have collaborated with FEMA, COMO and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Motorcycling. MAG have engaged with other lobby groups from Fair Fuel UK and the Association of British Drivers to British Cycling, Living Streets and The British Horse Society. Additionally, we have got stuck in with bodies like the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, the Motorcycle Crime Reduction Group and Highways England and the RSDG. MAG aim for open dialogue, not confrontation. Listening to the views of others is as important as ensuring that others hear our views.
Ending the year with style.
As the year drew to a close we continued to press forward. We made fresh calls for a meeting with Department for Transport ministers. With the help of Greater London Assembly Member, Keith Prince secured a meeting with Transport for London to discuss road safety. At the TfL meeting we secured a commitment for a review of the threats to rider safety in the capital that we hope can become a template for similar action in all regions.
MAG has big plans for 2021, and are looking forward to even more significant progress.
We didn’t have space here to mention everything that MAG did in 2020, but hope that you will believe you are getting value for your £27 membership fee. If you are not already a member, please do join up to support the work we do. The more members and funds we have the greater the impact we can achieve. If you value your right to ride – joining MAG is the best investment you can make.