Chengdu's recently passed regulation on electric bikes bans bigger electric bikes and aims to take big scooters off the streets within the next three years.
Authorities state that the regulation is intended to guarantee a "smooth" traffic flow for non-motorized vehicles and reduce the number of deaths as a result of collisions involving scooters, a number authorities claim is "high."
Local news report that there were no general objections during a public hearing of the first draft from "10 citizens from all walks of life," which has, in previous hearings included groups of hired actors.
Chengdu's regulation follows Shanghai's example which this year started to enforce e-bike license plates and speed limits. Citing compliance with nationally set regulations, the draft affects more than 4 million local owners of electric scooters, electric bikes, hybrid bikes, tricycles, and even electric wheelchairs.
The regulation sets a 15-kmph maximum speed for such vehicles, 5 kmph lower than the national limit of 20 kmph. In addition to a catalogue restrictions and penalties, the new regulation prohibits minors under the age of 16 from riding electric bikes and persons over the age of 12 from riding as passengers on the back of such vehicles.
A Sina poll indicated that 40.3% of respondents are against compulsory license plates, and another 25,9% question its practicality in reality. The regulation requires more than 4 million applicants to undergo a complicated registration process at the Chengdu Traffic Management Bureau. Purchasers of new electric bikes will be required to register within 15 days. Chengdu, like Shanghai, plans to punish violations of the speed limit and license-plate falsifications, modifications, theft, and demolition with fines. The penalties will be enforced after a six-month transition period, and owners of electric bikes exceeding set restrictions of weight, speed, power, and size will still be legally able to ride their bikes for the next three years. Refusal to pay fines will result in vehicle confiscation by police.
Electric cars: good, electric bikes: bad
In the 1990s China eagerly promoted the development and production of electric bikes as one of 10 key scientific-development priority projects in the Ninth Five-Year Plan with the personal endorsement of former Premier Li Peng. China became the electric-bike industry leader, and Chengdu grew into a major production hub with more than 20 local e-bike brands. Electric bikes eventually overtook pedal bikes to become the most-used mode of individual transportation. In a Sina poll, 76.9% of Chengdu repondents said that they view electric bikes as a convenient and cheap means of transportation. Indeed, academic research shows that it is the cheapest mode of transportation.
But the national paradigm has long since shifted away from electric bikes to electric cars. In a bid to "fight air pollution", the nation has pushed targets for electric cars and lured buyers with initial subsidies of up to RMB60,000 per car. Buyers of luxury electric cars like the Tesla Model S in Shanghai are eligible for license-plate-fee waiver to the tune of RMB90,000.
Such extreme meassures to push a prohibitively exclusive mode of transportation that, if the research is correct, actually increases pollution (electric power is still ultimately produced by dirty coal can result in a more serious impact on public health and quality of life). But Chengdu's active drive for car ownership continues with free parking for cars at shopping malls, while their two-wheeled counterparts are charged. The taboo on setting limits on new car registrations has progressed to the point that even rumors of possible upcoming regulations are met with police investigatations.
The Sichuanese powerhouse of electric-bike production has so far resisted following the example of numerous cities that placed outright bans on e-bikes. Such bans often proved simply impractical and unenforceable: the limited alternatives and advantages of such a cheap and convenient means of transportation could not be ignored by the market.
Photos by Dan Sandoval