Two’s company, three’s a crowd, so they say. But three is exactly what you get in the province of Ontario. As in, three points on your licence if you’re caught unlawfully traveling on an HOV lane. That includes motorcycles. Why not?
Ever get the feeling something’s wrong in your world? I’ve been having that feeling ever since I noticed HOV lanes in Ontario, specifically, around Toronto. First I spotted one on the 404, which is the extension of the Don Valley Parkway that runs north out of Toronto. I saw one in Ottawa. Road crews spent years redoing the QEW around Burlington, and created HOV lanes along one stretch. But where is the motorcycle in this picture? Conspicuously absent!
Of course motorcycles are high occupancy vehicles. Some aren’t even rated for two. None are rated for three. But most can carry two. So when we are solo on a bike, we’re still half loaded, so to speak. With two, we’re fully loaded—unless of course you’re playing on private property, in which case three-up is kinda fun. Or if you’re living in other, less prosperous, countries where the rules are much more lax, and you have ma, pa, the kids and the groceries all riding on a 150cc Hero, the family commuter.
My first encounter with them was in the US where a federal law allows motorcycles in HOV lanes across the country. I’ve ridden HOV lanes on the west coast more than once.
Strangely, New York City bucks that law. A friend of mine, Karen Perrine, was pulled over and ticketed for riding her motorcycle in the HOV lane of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. She fought through the Appeals Board, along with the help of the American Motorcyclist Association, and won.
But during the fight she had points taken off her licence, she had to pay a special New York Driver’s Assessment Fee of $300, and had to find replacement auto insurance as a result, which cost her a total of $1,270. The whole thing sucked.
In the end, after a two-and-a-half year battle, her ticket was rescinded—and NYC was to comply with federal law within 60 days of that hearing. But NYC continues to operate in violation of US federal law and doesn’t allow motorcycles in the HOV lanes. How bizarre! Fact is, the only way NYC can legally get an exemption is if they can prove to the US transportation Secretary that motorcycles pose a safety hazard—which hasn’t happened yet.
The same thing happened to bikers in Phoenix and Pittsburg, who were ticketed for riding in an HOV lane. When the AMA pointed out they were in violation of federal law, the tickets were dismissed.
I’ve been riding in the HOV lane between Toronto and Hamilton, wondering about the legalities, but have never been stopped. I assumed it was fine to be there, but there was no motorcycle symbol on the sign, and it does say two people. I thought that if it turned out to be illegal for motorcycles, I could then fight the ticket, with exciting fanfare, like Karen did. But it’s not what I want to do with my precious time. I simply want to be legal in HOV lanes.
I decided to contact Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation and learned that motorcycles are allowed, but only when riding two-up. This infuriates me, because a six-seater car need only have the same two people in it. The fine for violating the rules is three points and $110. Ouch. Three points gives insurance companies licence to raise rates ridiculously—and that would be a moving violation. My question now is how to protest this? How to make change? Clearly, someone made a mistake.
In BC, for example, the only other place I know of in Canada that has HOV lanes, motorcycles are considered acceptable with rider only. It’s odd that Ontario hasn’t figured that out.
I got in touch with Bob Nichols from MOT’s communications branch, whose response to my inquiries was, “The primary purpose of our provincial HOV lanes is to make more efficient use of highway space by moving more people in fewer vehicles. A single rider on a motorcycle does not support this objective, i.e, it does not remove a vehicle from the road, unlike a commuter using a carpool or transit.” Huh? Motorcycles are considered to be less impactful (therefore more desirable) than cars or trucks on the road because they’re relatively small, they take up less parking space in a city (or elsewhere, for that matter) and are less material to recycle when the time comes and of course, use less fuel. These days, fuel economy seems to be an issue as the price of oil jumps at the whim of the oil producers—or so it appears to us at the gas pump. We also have the vague notion that the supply might not last forever, or even as long as we live, let alone seven generations into the future. When I see a SUV, large pickup truck or van with two people in it, I know it’s not even half occupied. When I see a motorcycle with one person on it, it’s half occupied or more. Really, there are solo seat bikes. Shall we try to tell the Minister that? A 100 per cent fully occupied motorcycle with a solo seat can’t ride the HOV. It’s clear to me that with two wheels instead of four, without a trunk, roof or hood, that the motorcycle is indisputably smaller and requires less fuel to propel it along the highway. Why ban the solo rider from the HOV lanes?
My next question is what to do about this? And are there enough people who care? We could start an online petition. We could all just individually email the Ministry of Transportation Bob Chiarelli, and bring this to his attention. Perhaps he didn’t notice that he was barring half and fully occupied motorcycles from the HOV lanes. Could we reach out to the Canadian Motorcycle for support? What about the Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council? Don’t they get at least $10 in their coffers for every new bike that is sold? Cars that aren’t even close to half full can drive in the HOV lanes and a bike that is half full or completely full can’t. This doesn’t sound right to me.
Canadians are known for complacency. Got any ideas? Care to surprise me? Maybe Bob Your Uncle is Bob Chiarelli? Could you give him a call?