Beijing has lifted a ban on electric bicycles from the beginning of 2006 in an attempt to alleviate the congestion caused by the rapidly rising number of cars.
As of 4 January, electric bikes that meet national standards are officially allowed to take to the road after being registered with the city’s traffic administration.
The city earlier imposed a ban on registering new electric bikes in August 2002 after the number registered hit tens of thousands, citing the difficulty in the disposal of the used batteries and the potential harm to the environment. The ban has been a continuous sore spot with electric bike users and environmental experts who have lobbied consistently for the removal of the ban.
The issue is country-wide. Zhuhai City in Guangdong Province took the lead in an absolute ban of electric bicycles on streets in July 2005. Violators can be fined 500 yuan (US$60), and have their bikes confiscated. But while local officials make the argument for improving the city’s transportation and allowing automobiles to move at a faster speed, citizens counter that public transit authorities could use traffic control means to regulate the traffic of electric bikes in order to reduce the problems.
The city of Haikou, the capital of China’s southernmost province, held public hearings in December over allowing electric bikes on the street.
Most participants at the Haikou meeting argued that battery-driven bicycles are environment-friendly and should be an efficient traffic means in cities. But the municipal public security bureau said that battery-powered bikes have caused increasing traffic accidents and jams on streets, and consequently, they should be prohibited in the downtown area.
A survey by China’s State Quality and Quarantine Administration found that 20% of Chinese electric bikes fail to meet minimum standards. The survey, which covered 70 electric bike producers in Tianjin, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shandong, said only 56 of the 70 types of electric bikes surveyed are up to standard.
The major problem areas are the braking system and the speed limit design.
There are 1,400 electric bike producers in China, with a combined annual output of 6 million units. Most of them have a production capacity of less than 10,000 units a year.
According to the China Bicycle Association, there are now 15 million electric bikes in the country. Experts predict that the number could surge to 40 million in the coming 10 years, as more bike users shift to battery-driven bicycles.
Removal of the Beijing ban came as pressure mounts on city administrators to tackle horrible traffic congestion, air pollution and possible fuel supply, caused to a large extent by a rapidly growing number of cars on the road.