31, March 2015

Hong Kong's ban on the e-bike is all about economics

Hong Kong's ban on the e-bike is all about economics Damian Barrett Studios

Image by Damian Barrett


The e-bike.

Simple enough concept right? A bike with a motor that runs entirely on electricity. The e-bike is a contraption that could potentially get hundreds of thousands of lazy/unhealthy/malingering/old people around the world out of their cars and off their buses and into the open environment more often and in a more meaningful manner than a quick walk to the local shop or a shuffle to the bus stop.

Potentially, I say, because at present just about every government around the world continues to look the other way where electric-powered transportation is involved.

This is all assisted of course by the help of a few billion dollars selectively (i.e. to everyone) doled out by lobbyists from oil companies and the automative industry.

There is also the issue of existing (and outdated) regulations and the 'probem' of classifying the e-bike - is it a bike? Or is it an E? Or should we class it in the same group as a Ducati?

Yes, it is true, when you put it like that - simply - and consider the *confusion* this is causing grown adults, we would indeed be better letting a group of 4-year olds sort it out inbetween lunch time and learning how to take a dump on the Big Toilet and not using the curtain to wipe your arse when you've done.

This is from Wikipedia:

Confusion remains regarding the various laws involving electric bicycles. This stems from the fact that while some countries have national regulations, the legality of road use is left to states and provinces, and then complicated further by municipal laws and restrictions. Furthermore, there is a range of classifications and terms describing them – "power-assisted bicycle" (Canada) or "power-assisted cycle" (United Kingdom) or ”electric pedal-assisted cycles” (European Union) or simply "electric bicycles" – and as such in some cases have varying laws according to their respective classifications in some places.

In Canada 2 of the 10 provinces don't allow e-bikes, and I am sure someone there knows why, someone wise and very smart, but it's lost to me. In New York and Ohio they are illegal too.

They are also illegal in Hong Kong and the government there is very serious about this, so much so that the matter has been brought up in the Legislative Council, by the Hon. Christopher Chung. A reply from the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, forthcame - gotta love the way the HK government still uses typewriter font electronically, just to be sure all trace of emotion is thoroughly drained from their missives - anyway it reads;

So here's the deal in HK - you can import an electric bicycle but to ride it it has to pass a road worthiness inspection - however, the government has already deemed that no e-bike will pass that inspection. If you ride it on the road you without the rubber stamp of road worthiness (which it can and will not ever attain), you get busted. Ride on the cycle paths and yep, busted.


Es are good? Not in HK.


Right next door in China and in Taiwan too, e-bikes are perfectly legal. So why not in Hong kong?

The reason is that the HK government fears that if e-bikes become legal, so many people would be riding them that there would be a clamor for new, safe bike paths and lanes around the island and outlying territories.

It's not a safety issue - it's an economic one.

The folk who ride bikes now and who clamor for safe bike lanes (and this is generally true worldwide) can be dismissed as an annoyance, a mosquito in the ear of an overweight beast grazing in the pasture. It's mostly roadies and other associated weirdos, like hippies, students and a few healthy older folk.

But what if the general public - the *normal* public - also began riding bikes, after getting on an e-bike, realising the savings they could make in gas, the savings in time stuck in traffic jams, and the benefits of breathing in even more heavily polluted air?

Can you imagine that?

Well, yes, and so can the HK government - and it terrifies them. The cost of carving out extra space for bike lanes on an island already ridiculously crowded would be huge, that's true, and yet officialdom's myopia again robs a society of an opportunity to not only get healthier and connect more with its environment, but also of the chance to make a positive change for the environment that sustains them.

The savings made from the benefits of e-bikes (for one there would eventually be less strain on the public health system) would soon outweigh the cost to a change in the infrastructure of the city.

So, e-bikes in HK, where e-bikes would be ideal for so many people?

No way, bad for the city and unsafe.

Ferraris and Lambos, Hummers and Rolls Royces?

Sure, the more the merrier.

Shark fins? Sure! No problem! How many you want?

OK that last one is a bit facetious but you can see the point.

Be consistent and do the right thing  - or something resembling it -and not the blatantly wrong.


  • Comment Link Jeff 31, March 2015 posted by Jeff

    Not very clear here in Singapore either. The bike path beside my house has a no e-bike/scooter sign but it seems everybody is using them these days. On a typical day you will see more than 100 adults buzzing around on child-style scooters. I think the challenge here may be linked to the COE system.....which currently run around $65k for a 2.0 liter car. The government has also invested a lot in the public transit system which they can get revenue from....hard to capture much revenue from an e-bike or scooter.....good article though...times are changing.

  • Comment Link Lee Rodgers 31, March 2015 posted by Lee Rodgers

    Thanks Jeff, appreciate the comment. Just reading a report on the harmful effects of lead batteries used in most Chinese-made e-bikes, kinda worrying! But yes, the concept if done right does mean better crap coming out of them than cars, more people outside, less congestion, which has to be good. Keep cranking!

  • Comment Link Mike 31, March 2015 posted by Mike

    Interesting that HK police is using E motorbikes though. So how did they get the safety approval?

  • Comment Link Lee Rodgers 31, March 2015 posted by Lee Rodgers

    Really? Any more info? Perhaps e-motorbikes are allowed?

  • Comment Link Steve 31, March 2015 posted by Steve

    Police use the 'Brammo' Enertia.
    The impressive looking 'Brammo' Empulse I have seen on on HK roads as well. -Both well built machines with price tags to match...

  • Comment Link Larry T. 31, March 2015 posted by Larry T.

    Here in Italy e-bikes are sold in bike shops, automobile dealerships and I've even seen them in supermarkets and stand-alone outlets. No license or special insurance seems to be required. Even in Rome we see 'em all the time, but can't say there's much of a clamor for specific roads or trails for 'em, or bicycles that you pedal either. So far I've yet to see on self-destruct and kill its operator so what's the big deal?

  • Comment Link Mad Marsupial 31, March 2015 posted by Mad Marsupial

    It all boils down to whether or not people are trying to skirt the rules.

    The electric motorbikes in HK are full motorbikes. From a distance they look like 'real' motorbikes. Real tyres, brakes, geometry. They perform, act and look like their petrol cousins - but just have electric motors.

    Many e-bikes are 'proper' bicycles with a motor to assist. Great for hilly countries, older riders and so on. Bicycle geometry, weight, speed, pedals etc.

    Then we have what I'm willing to bet the HK Govt. is trying to avoid...

    ...Electric scooters that are not really bicycles, but are trying to avoid the need for registration/regulation like motorbikes. Even New York has had this problem. Too fast for bike paths. Too slow for the roads. Hard to legislate or regulate. Much easier to just say 'no'.

  • Comment Link Martin Turner 31, March 2015 posted by Martin Turner

    Mad M, even if you are correct in your generous assessment that HKG is only rejecting all these varieties of electric-powered two-wheelers because it can't see how to deal with ones that fall between two current categories, it's not good enough.
    Other places are experimenting with various approaches to this innovation. The right balance is not fixed, at least not yet. But our lot just stick their heads in the sand and refer to a one-page statement they made over 10 years ago:

  • Comment Link Martin Turner 31, March 2015 posted by Martin Turner

    The issue is not (primarily) “people [who] are trying to skirt the rules”, it’s people like the pregnant mother who was nabbed by police as she took her six-year-old to school, while trying not to over-exert herself.

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  • Comment Link Peter Mason 11, September 2015 posted by Peter Mason

    Excellent post. Had to share on FB. Hong Kong are missing a huge opportunity by not allowing e-bikes.

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