Proper law will help e-bikes to lead green march

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

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.

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