Case Study 1: E-bike, Antidote? Poison?

There are around 120 million e-bikes on China’s roads-up from 50,000 a decade ago, making it the fast growing form of transportation in China. At first, cities embraced them as a quieter and cleaner alternative to gasoline-powered scooters.

However, officials were caught off guard when this environmentally appealing solution turned out to be deadly on the streets. In 2007, there were 2,469 deaths from e-bike accidents nationwide, up from just 34 in 2001, according to government statistics.  That’s roughly 3% of China’s annual 90,000 traffic accident deaths. The reason for the increasing traffic accidents caused by e-bike could be that drives of electric bicycle don’t need to pass stringent driving tests to get licensed.

Due to the development of battery and engine technology, the China’s e-bike industry started under the planned economy of the Maoist 1960s. After China liberated its economy in the 1980s, a handful of entrepreneurs tried to revive e-bikes just as city planners were worried about the explosive growth of exhaust-spewing mopeds and scooters. By the 1990s, cities were starting to ban motor scooters, and creating an opening for e-bikes. E-bikes were supported by the government, including 10 key scientific development priority projects in the Ninth Five-Year Plan. By 1998, regulators realized they also had to limit the speed and size of e-bikes. The original standards limit the maximum speed of an e-bike to 20 kilometers per hour (a little more than 12 mph). But e-bikes’ power soon outpaced that.  Some capable of 25 mph.

In order to avoid the crowed public transport, more and more people (for example, commuters) chose to own an e-bike, which brought a large increase in e-bike sales from 1.5 million in 2002 to 4 million in 2003. However, e-bike fatalities rose too. In 2003, 87 people were killed in e-bike accidents. A year later, the number rose to 589. The deaths led to a backlash. More and more cities decided to ban e-bikes; or set up checkpoints and penalize the e-bikes which violated weight and speed restrictions or didn’t have proper registration.  Another problem is e-bikes may not be so clean after all, because 95% of China’s e-bikes use lead batteries, they emit more lead into the atmosphere than other forms of transportation. They also rely on electricity that’s mostly made by coal-burning power plant.

Well, we should also respect the public opinion. “The e-bike is a necessity for my work. The fastest and cheapest traffic vehicle I can afford. It’s the same for most riders here. I can finish my work on the bike. There are no buses in many places and I can’t afford to buy a car. What do you expect me to do?” said Mr. Yu. Due to the new battery technology (Lithium battery), the pollution of the battery can be solved. And the government can also improve the regulation for e-bike which will enhance the safety for it.

Should we ban e-bikes or not? Should we look at it from the perspective of government or the public?


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2 Responses to Case Study 1: E-bike, Antidote? Poison?

  1. maartentaekels says:

    Banning e-bikes would be, in my opinion, a bad decision. I think it’s positive that so many people use an electric bike for transportation. Concerning safety, it’s up to the governement to make people aware of the dangers and to set up strict rules concerning the use of such a bike.

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