In a year bookended by meetings with Government Ministers, MAG has proven once again why it is the leading riders’ rights organisation in the UK. MAG’s political team, Lembit Öpik and Colin Brown, review 2021 – another 12 months of work protecting your right to ride.
Lembit Öpik (Director of Communications and Public Affairs)
Much of my campaigning in 2021 has been characterised by issues of central strategic importance to MAG’s core philosophy of defending riders’ rights. The key areas are: access to road space; financially enforced restrictions on our right to ride; environment related bans on new petrol motorcycles; and the implications of autonomous vehicles.
I’ve been dealing with two road space issues – Covid-related road changes and ‘active travel.’ The Covid-19 pandemic was used as an excuse to widen pavements and cut the risk of disease transmission. We’ve opposed these where they breach our liberty to use roads and endanger riders trying to navigate already congested highways. Covid was also employed as a justification to force through the ‘active travel agenda’ – cycling and walking. I’ve frequently explained motorcycling is active travel too, and far more important economically than cycling. In some places local people removed road restrictions themselves or complained so hard that they’ve been removed – as in Kensington, London. This issue will become a key battleground as emergency powers used impose these changes must give way to proper consultations. Then MAG must work with others to get the results we want.
Financially enforced restrictions
The Government says motorcycles should be exempt from emissions taxes. This didn’t deter London mayor Sadiq Khan from imposing them anyway. I’ve worked with the former Chair of the Greater London Authority (GLA) Transport Committee Mr Keith Prince to highlight that motorcycles reduce travel times, costs and emissions; and charging them is counterproductive to the very eco-policy the mayor promotes. Colin and I have made the case elsewhere too, and so far, every other city has followed the Government’s advice.
One good outcome is a strengthened London MAG group plus more regular contact with Transport for London, where we engage instead of attack. MAG’s new chair, Neil Liversidge gave evidence to the GLA Transport Committee’s investigation into Vision Zero in December. We continue to criticise mistakes whilst offering our support to find genuine improvements in rider safety.
Environment related ban on new motorcycles
Last year I warned motorcycles would be included in the Government’s ban on the sale of new petrol (and diesel) vehicles. I was right – for motorbikes the proposed date is 2035. I’ve led a campaign to defend your choices in personal transport, working in coalition with other groups including the Alliance for British Drivers and Fair Fuel UK to get logic into this debate. Inevitably, this has drawn us into the argument about the human impact on the climate, but however you look at it, smaller vehicles instead of larger ones must help the ecology. This campaign will continue to gather momentum.
I attended events about the science, regulation and liability burden attached to autonomous vehicles. There are robo-bikes, but for many this defeats the purpose of riding. During 2021 I identified that manually operated motorbikes will need to share roads with robo-cars. I also warned of the problem of safely integrating these two modes. I’ve engaged with the Law Commission and clarified MAG will not accept the removal of road space to create robot-only lanes. That would force taxpaying road users to become second-class citizens to a technology insufficiently developed to deal with other road users.
Robo-vehicles are attractive because they save the cost of human drivers. The pressure to accept them will increase, so I’ll continue to argue for proportionality, and resist any plan that puts robot drivers first and humans second. Autonomous tech also raises the spectre of mandatory speed limiters and GPS tracking on our machines.
Together with all the regular work – writing for The Road and Network, working with ace researcher George Legg to assess political commentary about motorcycling, supporting local groups, attending meetings locally and nationally, getting MAG on the media and helping the biking community whenever I can – my aim is to keep MAG right up there as the primary voice for bikers in the United Kingdom. There’s a clear crunch point looming for our right to buy new petrol-powered motorcycles: 2035. With consistent and robust application of effort and intelligent campaigning we can protect our choices, road space and freedom for years to come. I’ll keep doing my best to achieve exactly that.
Colin Brown (Director of Campaigns and Political Engagement)
Motorcycling faces more fundamental threats than ever before. These threats are vaguely recognised by the majority of riders, but possibly not fully appreciated in terms of their scale and proximity. Understanding the threats often hidden in clothes of morality is complex. This complexity is why it is vital that MAG should be leading conversations, not reacting to events once proverbial horses have bolted.
I gained an independent seat for MAG at the DfT’s Road Safety Delivery Group (RSDG) and have been MAG’s representative at the National Motorcyclists Council (NMC). MAG are a founding member of the NMC. I secured a meeting with the Roads Minister and improved two way communication channels for MAG with DfT and DVSA officials. The end of the year saw me back in front of a new DfT Minister responsible for the decarbonisation of transport. We are making inroads to the Policing Minister and Home Office officials on the theft issue, and I am increasing MAG’s role and influence within the Motorcycle Crime Reduction Group. Beyond Westminster I have worked at establishing and supporting strong communication lines with devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as with Metro Mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners and various agencies and bodies such as the MCIA, TfL and others.
Ministerial meeting number 1
The meeting with Roads Minister, Baroness Vere of Norbiton led to the formulation of a top five priority list for the DfT’s consideration. The priorities were chosen by members through a survey and were: 1) access to all bus lanes, 2) better road surfaces, 3) safer crash barriers, 4) more and better parking provision, and 5) simplified licencing and training. The Minister committed to reviewing these priorities in detail and with the launch of the NMC in March increased pressure has been placed on the DfT to recognise and support motorcycling in a new motorcycle strategy. MAG’s top five priorities are naturally written in to the policy details being promoted by the NMC.
Local Transport Plans
Maintaining an influence on local transport strategies has been a key part of my work over the last 12 months. Following the outrage generated by Oxford’s comments about motorcycling I have continued to engage with the development of their local transport and connectivity plan. The New Year will see the residents of Oxfordshire consulting on a transport plan that recognises the motorcycles over other motorised transport modes. A similar process is ongoing in many other locations around the country, and I am ensuring the voice of motorcyclists is taken into consideration. There are promising signs, but as we know the general push to reduce the use of private motorised transport has grown many legs in recent years.
Involvement with the road safety sector and the seat at the RSDG led to the need to formulate a tangible policy position to challenge the Vision Zero issues. The appropriation of road safety to promote active travel and public transport has in my view led to the biggest own goal for road safety coming towards us. This is the concept of hierarchy soon to be written into the Highway Code. I formulated the Welcoming Roads vision to counter the mission creep that is taking over the road safety agenda. Having won support for the concept from the whole of the NMC policy council I believe that the DfT are seriously considering the sense of the Welcoming Roads concept as they develop their Road Safety Framework. We have the influence to promote our opinions directly to decision makers and I will ensure that our message is heard.
October saw shocking, poorly thought through proposals for anti-tampering legislation. The issue unsurprisingly turned into an over-night explosion of anger in the riding community. MAG led the charge in opposing the draconian proposals in their short consultation window. A petition has since been signed by well over 100,000 individuals which should force a parliamentary debate in the New Year. MAG is asking riders to engage with their MP’s to explain their objections and demand that their elected representatives do the job they were elected to do.
Ministerial meeting number 2
This of course leads into the work to resist the coercion to move to electric motorcycles. I made it clear to Trudy Harrison the new DfT Minister who claims to be an advocate for motorcycling that MAG is opposed to a ban on the sale of new ICE motorcycles. There are many reasons for riders to oppose this ban, not least the fact that by any metric motorcycles reduce transport’s environmental impact as their share of the transport mix increases. Promoting this position responsibly requires careful and nuanced presentation to avoid a minefield filled with traps and tripwires. MAG has surveyed members and non-members on this issue and our results have been confirmed and reinforced by a similar survey carried out by FEMA. We need to take this position and I believe we can win this debate.
Once again MAG is finishing the year stronger than it was at the start of the year. 2022 will be a turbulent one, there is little doubt of that. We are prepared for the fight and will stand shoulder to shoulder with you all in defence of our right to ride motorcycles – responsibly, but without undue interference from Government. Join the organisation that has your interests at heart and together we will take on any challenge.