Beijing's electric bikes get a license to drive

09:56, December 08, 2009      

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The announcement on November 29 that the city's 700,000 electric bike owners will be forced to take driving tests and acquire vehicle licenses as of January 1, 2010, sharply split public opinion. Those who feel that the bikes' silent motors, high speeds and reckless users make them an unregulated menace on the streets were jubilant. The rest, including the bikes' many riders, groaned at adding yet another layer of expensive bureaucracy to their lives, fearing that this will further impede Beijing's attempts to replace congestive car traffic with "green" transport.

The result of all the commotion came over the weekend with the temporary suspension of the new standard pending the relevant applications from the China Bicycle Association (CBA) formulated to the Standardization Administration of China before December 10, amid accusations that the original standard was a result of intense lobbying from the "motorcycle industry", according to Lu Jinlong of the CBA.

The Standardization Administration of China explained on the night of December 6 that the boundaries between electric motorcycles and bikes were clear. Standard electric bikes (maximum speed under 20 kilometers per hour, total weight under 40 kilograms, and can travel no less than 25 kilometers on one charge) classify as non-motor vehicles. Consumers who purchase or buy them don't need to register for driving tests and vehicle plates.

The original ban on electric bikes was lifted in 2006, when bikes weighing less than 40 kilograms with a maximum speed of 20 kilometers per hour could get plates. Now, according to the newly formulated national standard, electric bikes heavier than 40 kilograms with speeds of above 20 kilometers an hour will be categorized as electric motor cars, and thus technically as motor vehicles. It's estimated that 120 million electric bikes, including 700,000 in Beijing, will fall into this category.

The reason for the sudden change in legislation is that almost all modern electric bikes today exceed the standard formulated 10 years ago, which hasn't been amended in all that time in spite of pressure to do so. Lu, the chairman of the Motor Vehicles Committee of the CBA suggested that electric bikes should remain in bike lanes. His committee has proposed that the standard should include "no weight limit and a highest speed of 30 kilometers per hour." Lu is not the only agitator on this issue. Zhang Shuyi, professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said that electric bicycles were greatly important to many families, so public hearings should be adopted before implementation of new laws.

Wu Changsheng, a lawyer at Beijing Hongfan Guangzhu Law Firm, stated that electric bikes and a maximum speed of 25 kilometers an hour lack sufficient safety protection, especially when traveling in the same lane as standard vehicular traffic. Additionally, if the standard became compulsory, then electric bikes would not be permitted in areas where motorcycles are banned.

Some of the professional censure was echoed by locals. "Are you kidding? The traffic jam in motor vehicle lanes in Beijing is serious enough without adding electric bikes," Li Xing, a 35-year-old driver who's been commuting to the CBD for five years, told Lifestyle. Yang Xia, 26, who has been reliant on electric bikes for the last two and a half years, voiced her safety concerns: "Car drivers are always called ‘flesh in iron' while bikers… are ironically referred to as ‘iron covered in flesh'. Can you imagine the ‘flesh without any protection' hitting the ‘iron'? Moreover, the new standard doesn't provide protection for our motoring rights, but still asks us to register for licenses. Is that really feasible?" Liu Donggen, associate professor of the China People's Public Security University, pointed out that if accidents involving electric bikes occur, the owners will be held accountable after the re-categorization is implemented.

Those whose lives depend less on electric two-wheelers tend to have less sympathy for bikers' needs. Wang Peng, who rides a regular bike to his office in Zhongguancun, was in total agreement with the proposal. "Electric bikes are heavy and too fast to control. Last week, I was knocked down by an electric bike that was driving very quickly. I'm hardly the first unlucky person, and accidents where people get hit by electric bikes happen every day." Li Quan, who walks to work every day, showed her assent, but also claimed that "a driving license alone cannot put an end to the accidents caused by electric bikes; strengthening these owners' consciousness of safety is fundamental to this issue."

Source: Global Times
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