The police have been under pressure over the $90 cost for visiting foreign drivers wanting motorbike licences when they get here. Of that $90, $20 was for the licence and $70 for the testing fee.
The resulting drop in tourist demand for motorbikes hit major car rental companies hard, costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One firm, Polynesian Rental Cars and Bikes, said it had to lay off staff because of the downturn.
Other critics had warned about the increasing traffic on our roads as tourists switched from scooters to hiring motor cars.
The Cook Islands Police Service says: “Last year’s law changes to introduce targeted helmet-wearing and new fees for first-time drivers did not affect the number of licences being issued by the police.
“In fact, the numbers for 2016/2017 have gone up more than 22 per cent over the previous financial year.
“Police adopted a stronger priority for road safety and the reduction of fatalities and crashes by supporting the new regime for motorcycle helmets.”
The service says: “In addition, a new fee structure catered for skills and handling tests to improve motorcycle driving. The response showed that tourist motorcycle drivers have increased and continue to be a constant presence at National Police Headquarters six days a week, for licensing.”
Police figures reveal that before the helmet law and fee change, there were 1558 drivers’ licences issued in 2015/2016 – four months before the change.
In the financial year of the change in October 2016, the number of drivers’ licences sit at 1908 – excluding this month (June).
The Commissioner of Police Maara Tetava says a priority for road safety is being met by the regulatory regime for drivers in conjunction with tactical traffic checks for compliance with the required driver documentation.
“It’s important that we maintain the vigilance on our roads and be supported by the co-operation of the community while working to keep people safe.”
Police say compulsory safety helmets are targeted at younger drivers and all overseas drivers of motorcycles. Testing fees, they say, were applied in particular to all first-time drivers in order to improve the driving standards.
“The biggest impact on drivers’ licences, in terms of numbers and revenue, has been the earlier 2014 change in the law that allowed visitors to use their own overseas motor car licences rather than acquire a Cook Islands licence.
“The revenue to government began to drop dramatically that year along with the numbers.
“In the 2013/2014 fiscal year the number of licences dropped by more than 83 per cent – from 18,048 to 3051 in 2014/2015.”
The police say that in terms of economic impact, the Cook Islands’ licences once generated in the vicinity of $800,000 to $1,000,000 a year.
“After the 2014 change, this revenue dropped to between $6000 and $12,000 a year. “
The police add, however, “that the testing and skills and handling fees on the other hand, are classified as Police Trading Revenue”.