Proper law will help e-bikes to lead green march
The electric bicycle we see today was invented in the 1990s, but the Chinese government, enterprises and consumers still have different views on the development and management of e-bikes. Their dispute mainly revolves around e-bikes’ technical standards, storage battery pollution, safe usage and, most important, traffic management.
But despite the dispute, the e-bike industry has developed rapidly over the past two decades. In 1998 only about 58,000 e-bikes were produced in China. By 2015, however, more than 200 million e-bikes, twice the number of automobiles, were in service in China. In some small and medium-sized cities, 10 to 30 percent people use e-bikes as a mode of transport, and in about half of China’s cities more e-bikes are used than bicycles by commuters. This means e-bikes have become a major mode of transport in China’s urban areas.
To some extent, e-bikes meet the traffic demand of middle- and low-income groups due to their efficiency and low cost. E-bikes also meet the requirements of the express delivery and logistics industry. Take Shanghai for example. In 2013, the city had about 82,000 express delivery employees, who used e-bikes to deliver between 50 and 100 packages each every day.
As Chinese people become more aware about environmental protection and urban traffic prob- lems become increasingly serious, e-bikes offer many solutions. But the e-bike industry lacks the necessary technological standards, which many believe make the two-wheelers a traffic and safety hazard for the people.
E-bikes in use today can exceed 15 kilometers in an hour, but most of the e-bike users have not received any training or passed any traffic exams and thus are ignorant of many of the traffic rules. In fact, e-bikes and e-motorcycles have become one of the major causes of traffic accidents. Statistics show the number of traffic accidents caused by e-bikes and e-motorcycles is second only to those caused by automobiles.
The storage batteries used by the majority of e-bikes are outdated and therefore an environmental hazard. About 95 percent of the e-bikes use lead-acid storage batteries, which are quite cheap but low on efficiency and environmental protection. Besides, a lot of used e-bike storage batteries are not properly recycled or disposed of, resulting in serious environmental pollution.
There are no sound regulations, traffic rules, or public security and safety inspection laws on e-bikes.
As a result, different local governments adopt different rules and regulations for e-bike management. About 43 percent of China’s local administrative areas have e-bike catalogue management systems in place, which issue licenses for qualified e-bikes.
Some cities place restrictions, such as traffic control and time limit, on e-bikes. In some cities such as Zhuhai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou in South China’s Guangdong province, e-bikes are banned on urban roads, while provinces such as Qinghai and Guizhou have no specific regulations on e-bikes. E-bike management is not only about industry administration and urban management, because it affects many people’s daily lives and primary interests. So, the central government should fix a basic direction for e-bike development. But considering that China is a vast country with a huge population, different regions should have different regulations on e-bikes depending on the actual situation on the ground. In addition, laws and regulations on the use of e-bikes and disposal of old and unusable e-bikes should also be improved and law enforcement strengthened, in order to promote the healthy development of the e-bike industry. Moreover, the development and use of new energy technology in the e-bike industry should be promoted. Also, the authorities should encourage the e-bike industry to use eco-friendly technology and highly-efficient lithium batteries, so as to gradually eliminate outdated lead-acid storage batteries. And environmental protection authorities should strengthen inspection and supervision of the e-bike industry, especially when it comes to recycling and waste disposal.
The author is a professor at the College of Metropolitan Transportation, Beijing University of Technology.