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Electric bike plan drives cyclists to fury
By Cui Xiaohuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-01 08:04

Beijing electric bicycle users are angry at a proposal speculated to take effect next month which might put the brakes on the economical vehicle citywide.

A national motorbike association has filed a proposal to the State Standardization Administration to regulate the country's 120 million electric-powered bicycles from Jan 1, officials at a motorbike industry seminar in Beijing said on Sunday.

Beijing has 700,000 electric bicycles. Many residents say they use them as an economical alternative to cars and public transport.

"I ride my 2,400 yuan electric bike to work everyday," said Huang Sheng from Chaoyang district. "It can travel at speeds of up to 40 km per hour and I always get to work on time."

But the proposal aims to categorize electric-powered bicycles that can exceed 20 km per hour in the same group as conventional motorbikes, with rules such as training, tests and insurance.

Electric bikes to be used without a need for driving tests must be capped at 20 km per hour.

"That speed is just a little quicker than jogging," said Wu Changsheng, a Beijing-based lawyer familiar with the industry's policies. He told METRO that the proposal, if approved, would outlaw all electric bicycles in Beijing and other cities.

Electric bicycles are also controlled in western countries. While less populated countries like Australia regulate the maximum speed at 50 km per hour, European countries have set limits at 25 km per hour.

According to the proposal, cyclists will have to pass driving tests to obtain their licenses and buy expensive insurance packages before hitting the road.

Cyclists also receive stricter annual check-ups by traffic management authorities and are likely to be punished severely in traffic accidents.

"The proposal was a badly designed one from the beginning," said lawyer Wu with the Beijing Hongfanguangzhu Law Firm.

"Cities like Beijing already have a large number of cyclists, many of whom are part of the low-income population," he said.

None of these people will be able to afford an electric-powered bike if the proposal gets adopted. They have to give them away," he said.

A salesperson surnamed Liu at a Luyuan electric bicycle shop, one of the largest brands nationwide, told METRO that five million workers in over 2,000 factories nationwide might also lose their jobs if authorities put the clamps on the vehicles.

"I don't see any future for the proposal," said Liu, adding that it was drawn up by motorbike manufacturers wanting to regain market.

But electric bicycles have also been the subject of controversy nationwide. Though the public believes they are a cost-effective way to travel, some traffic authorities are regarding them as road safety hazards.

Several cities in South China like Guangzhou where electric bicycles are the most popular form of transportation, have tried unsuccessfully to ban the vehicles outright.

The traffic management authority in Yizhuang last week also started a campaign to reduce the number of electric bikes. "Many electric-powered bicycles don't have number plates and so cyclists can escape after committing hit-and-run accidents," said a statement from the Yizhuang traffic management division.

(China Daily 12/01/2009 page25)