On your bikes! Per­haps too early to say that

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The crack­down on elec­tric tri­cy­cles in Shen­zhen, South China’s Guang­dong prov­ince, launched late last month seems con­tro­ver­sial. At a press con­fer­ence on Tues­day, Shen­zhen po­lice tried to ap­pease the pub­lic by say­ing the crack­down was tar­geted at il­le­gal ve­hi­cles rather than ex­press de­liv­ery ser­vices, and many me­dia re­ports had ex­ag­ger­ated the num­ber of tri­cy­cles seized.

But the trend in big cities is wor­ry­ing de­spite Shen­zhen of­fi­cials’ ex­pla­na­tion. In the lat­est devel­op­ment, the Bei­jing mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment has de­cided to ban elec­tronic mo­tor­cy­cles and tri­cy­cles on some of the city’s roads, in­clud­ing Chang’an Av­enue. Given the ex­em­plary role the cap­i­tal has played in pol­i­cy­mak­ing, it is pos­si­ble that more cities will fol­low its ex­am­ple to tar­get these pop­u­lar modes of trans­port which are used by couri­ers and many low-in­come peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials, the e-bikes and tri­cy­cles ply­ing the roads are of sub­stan­dard qual­ity, with most of them hav­ing a top speed of more than 20 kilo­me­ters an hour— the limit set by the au­thor­i­ties for safety rea­sons— and thus pose a threat to the safety of pedes­tri­ans.

Yet of­fi­cial fig­ures show ca­su­al­ties in traf­fic ac­ci­dents caused by e-bikes in Shen­zhen and Bei­jing ac­count for 10 to 20 per­cent of the to­tal, even though their pro­por­tion com­pared with pri­vate cars and other four-wheel ve­hi­cles is much higher. This means pri­vate cars and other ve­hi­cles are still re­spon­si­ble for most of the traf­fic ac­ci­dents.

For ex­am­ple, 113 peo­ple were killed and 21,000 in­jured in ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing e-bikes in Bei­jing last year, ac­count­ing for 12.3 per­cent and 36.7 per­cent of the to­tal num­ber of deaths and in­juries in road ac­ci­dents. Given that more than 4 mil­lion e-bikes ply the city’s streets com­pared with about 5 mil­lion cars and other ve­hi­cles, the safety record of e-bikes is not that bad. This should also make e-bikes safer than four-wheel­ers.

E-bikes are be­ing used by Chi­nese peo­ple for decades. Their pro­duc­tion, sales and use form an in­dus­trial chain that of­fers jobs to mil­lions of peo­ple. Since they are rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive and eas­ier to use, they have be­come quite pop­u­lar among peo­ple who can­not af­ford a car and courier com­pa­nies that pri­or­i­tize quick de­liv­ery. Also, e-bikes cause less pol­lu­tion, with their car­bon emis­sions ac­count­ing for less than 10 per­cent of that from pri­vate cars.

There is no deny­ing, though, that many e-bike rid­ers of­ten vi­o­late traf­fic rules; they are guilty of speed­ing, over­load­ing and even driv­ing in the wrong lanes. That is where lawen­force­ment should be strength­ened. What the Shen­zhen of­fi­cials are do­ing, how­ever, is throw­ing the baby out with the bath­wa­ter.

The crack­down on e-bikes in Shen­zhen has taken a heavy toll on courier com­pa­nies and their em­ploy­ees. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, the de­liv­ery vol­ume of some com­pa­nies has dropped by more than 90 per­cent, with many em­ploy­ees now con­sid­er­ing quit­ting their jobs. This has greatly in­creased the num­ber of com­plaints from cus­tomers over de­liv­ery de­lays, as well as made life more dif­fi­cult for those who rely on e-bikes to make a liv­ing. This ob­vi­ously runs against the gov­ern­ment’s goal of build­ing a har­mo­nious so­ci­ety char­ac­ter­ized by peo­ple­ori­ented poli­cies.

China could not have achieved un­prece­dented eco­nomic devel­op­ment over the past decades with­out the hard work of tens of mil­lions of mi­grant work­ers, who make the life of ur­ban res­i­dents eas­ier by sell­ing gro­ceries, de­liv­er­ing milk and bot­tled wa­ter, and do­ing house­hold chores. There­fore, their in­ter­ests should be in­cluded in the poli­cies to pro­mote ur­ban devel­op­ment.

De­mo­li­tions of schools for mi­grant work­ers’ chil­dren be­cause of their poor con­di­tions, or re­lo­ca­tion of small com­mod­ity mar­kets from down­town ar­eas have oc­ca­sion­ally made head­lines but rarely drawn enough pub­lic at­ten­tion.

The me­dia uproar over the Shen­zhen in­ci­dent and the pub­lic con­cern for the dis­ad­van­taged group, how­ever, show that ig­nor­ing the needs of the weak and poor is not the hall­mark of our so­ci­ety.

Hope­fully, ur­ban plan­ning of­fi­cials will like­wise change their mind­set.

The au­thor is a se­nior edi­tor with China Daily. huangx­i­angyang@chi­nadaily.

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