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...in their correct proportions

Pedro is not about money. It’s about power.

Vote for Pedro

No, not this Pedro

Operation Pedro” actively targets people on bikes in inner-Sydney, with regular blitzes to hand out $319 fines for not wearing a helmet and $106 fines for not having a bell.

Revenue-raising!” is the standard response from everybody bar the small legion of bike-haters who inhabit the comments section of any article mentioning cycling in the MainStreamMedia. It’s easy money – a couple of cops hide behind a corner at a busy cycling intersection and start writing tickets.

Bike cop looking ridiculous

This cop isn’t hiding, but he is looking ridiculous perched on the narrow cycleway separator.

But if the state government or NSW Police wanted to raise money, would they think to target people on bikes? After all, there’s not that many of them; roughly 1% of trips to work in Sydney are made by bicycle, and most of them wear helmets these days.

Compare it to driving, which accounts for 65% of all trips to work in Sydney, and the fact that almost all drivers break at least one road rule every trip they take. Exceed the speed limit by 1 kmh? Stop 1 cm over the white line at intersections? Indicate for 1 metre less than the required 30 metres before turning?

Sure, those offences are trivial. But so is cycling without a helmet or a bell. If money were the object they’d be going after the driving majority, not the cycling minority.

One possible reason cyclists are targeted is because pulling them over to fine them doesn’t stop traffic to the same extent that pulling motorists over does. A cop booking a cyclist doesn’t block the path of other people on bikes because people on bikes take so little space. Compare that with the space required for a cop, with cop car, to stop somebody in a car. In the inner-city there’s almost nowhere this can be done without blocking traffic, and making other drivers mad.

Cop busting a helmetless rider

When a cop busts somebody on a bike, the rest of the city flows around them. Nobody is held up.

Recently I had lunch at the Bourke St Bakery (the original, in Bourke St), and watched as cars travelling east on Devonshire St navigated the dual STOP signs at the intersection with Bourke St. The traffic was slow, but constant, and I didn’t see a single driver come to a complete stop at either sign. At 200 cars an hour, a small team of cops doing an 8-hour shift could hand out 3,200 stop sign fines, which at $330 each makes a total of $1,056,000.

A million dollars over eight hours for just one relatively quiet intersection. If the goal was raising revenue, the police wouldn’t be futzing with the occasional cyclist.

Twin STOP signs at the Bourke St Bakery

Dual STOP signs outside the Bourke St Bakery. No driver stops at either. C’mon NSW Police, you’re leaving money on the table here.

Is there enough space on Bourke St to stop all these drivers without blocking traffic altogether. I think so, as long as the police managed to keep a few of the nearby parking spots reserved for pulling over all those errant motorists.

So if it’s not about money…

If money isn’t the driving force here, what is? I see two forces; one general, and one specific.

Convict Flogging

Whip a few cyclists to keep ’em in line. And to keep the crowd happy.

The general is that Australia is a former prison colony, and has a deeply embedded authoritarian streak that manifests itself in a dizzying array of trivial rules and laws that are often enthusiastically policed because enthusiastic policing is what you get in a prison state.

But the specific force is that Australia’s society and roads are deeply car-centric, and people on bikes are seen as outsiders. There are votes to be had in “cracking down on cyclists”, and this is an easy, high-profile way for governments to be seen doing that. The motoring majority see themselves as burdened by traffic congestion, speed cameras, and red-light cameras. Operation Pedro is welcomed by them in terms of fairness – it spreads the burden of our messed up road system to those of us who appear to have opted out by not driving.

The bit of cash it raises doesn’t hurt in this equation, but it’s way down in the mix.


Do you ride a bike in Sydney and are sick of being fined for riding a bike unhelmeted? Join Helmet Cops to receive real-time notifications of Pedro-style stings from other group members .

4 Comments

  1. Yes I work in law enforcement and that sounds pretty-well right. Police are busy enough dealing with actual crime. Blitzes like this are usually the product of 1) some data driven increase in say accidents or 2) public pressure.

    • Nice article, thanks.

      Re Jay – “the product of 1) some data driven increase in say accidents”.
      So how is fining cyclists for not wearing a helmet or having a bell a logical response to an increase in [I presume] cycling accidents?

      80% of cycling accidents involving motorists are the fault of motorists – cyclists wearing helmets has no impact on this (ignoring the fact that studies show motorists are more respectful to cyclists when they are not wearing helmets).

      So the only plausible reason is that police want to reduce the number of cyclists on the road since this naturally lowers the absolute number of accidents, and thereby looks better on paper. This has the added bonus of appealing to the driving majority. However, it completely dismisses the overwhelming benefits to society of increased cycling participation. It is a short-termist, political strategy and, if sustained, will substantially lower the standard of living (health, environment, cost of living) for most Australians over the long-term.

  2. Interesting write up. The other big problem here is the scale of the fines. Because the fines are now massive, our little brains automatically think it must be important. Down in Melbourne, I was booked on a dockless bike share for not wearing a helmet while trying to get around two vehicles parked in the separated bike lane in front of me! I don’t think the vehicles even registered with the hwy patrol chaps. Prominence or magnitude is used to draw people’s focus, and cops being human, are just as influenced. If the fine were $10 people automatically would feel it’s not important. And that’s what these terrible fines and laws have done. If the highway patrol who booked me were interested in, I dunno, keeping people safe, they would have immediately cleared out the nitwits parked in the separated bike lane. The laws have drawn the focus in totally the wrong direction.

  3. I think MHL is nothing but a tool to sabotage cycling. The government brainwashed a nation and implemented phobia in the majority of people and sent police on the streets and parks to bully people out of cycling.
    The real reason behind this? I don’t know. The answer could be as simple as some politician hated cyclists and wanted to clear the country of them, or a bit more complicated profit making reasons, knowing that the number one value in Australia is profit. It doesn’t have to be government profit. Enough if a brother-in-law, a pal, or a nephew wants to run a business and sell millions of helmets, bells, fire alarms, child safety window locks – those that are made compulsory to buy….
    The government back stabbed the nation by breaking our human rights law and everyone who has the balls to say no for this betrayal ends up in custody, on courts with criminal conviction. Hence the real criminal is the government because we people cannot break a law that is already broken.

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