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Banned in Beijing

Electric bikes: the latest ban destined to be ignored


Banned in Beijing

Electric bikes: the latest ban destined to be ignored


Google “Beijing electric bikes ban”. Go on. I’ll wait.

The first page should have information from the past few months, but it doesn’t take long to see entries cropping up from 2010 and as far back as 2005. Have electric bikes even been around that long? (Well yes, the wiki has the earliest patent going back as far as 1895, but I digress).

Both Beijing and Shanghai have reportedly banned electric bikes and scooters from their roads over safety concerns, due to the fact there are no national safety requirements for them and the fact they tend to be involved in a lot of road accidents. Officials have expressed concern over the fact they often go fast enough to be considered “motor vehicles” but their brakes don’t stop them safely and promptly enough for that kind of speed.

The situation is compounded by the fact that both cities have seen a massive increase in the number of people making deliveries as the online purchasing market has skyrocketed in the last few years—whether it’s food from a restaurant or products bought online, the couriers are overwhelmingly on electric scooters, and there are a lot of them.

Of course, proponents of electric bikes and scooters have their own defense: they are more environmentally friendly, so why not criticize the sheer number of cars on the roads, which often take up bike lanes? As that New York Times article noted, citing a bicycle association representative: “Beijing now has 5.6 million motor vehicles on its roads, even with restrictions on new sales. The city has up to 2.5 million electric bicycles, and sales have reached 300,000 each year.”

They do have a point: “Congestion” is to “Beijing” as smog is to…well, “Beijing.”

But let’s get down to brass tacks: will people actually pay attention to the ban? Some media outlets are already reporting on people’s intention to utterly ignore it.

Given the massive demand for deliveries, smart money is on users of electric scooters finding ways around the regulations, harking back to a long tradition of Chinese bans being utterly ignored. In fact, the most newsworthy part of a smoking ban in the capital last year was the fact people were, by and large, actually following it, an occurrence which mystified locals and commentators alike.

There will, no doubt, be campaigns to target people using electric scooters…for a while. Which brings us to the next point:

There are a variety of reasons why bans can be ignored and if we’re being honest, there’s no single convincing answer, but the spotty nature of enforcement is right up there in the likely contributors.

Every so often, a crackdown is announced. Targets can be bizarrely specific, like erotic banana-eating online, or hopelessly broad to the point of being incomprehensible, like promoting Western values on TV. But you can be sure that despite the crackdown, which often lasts about as long as the mirth surrounding it, savvy internet users are now able to find bananas being erotically eaten and as for TV shows… I’m still not sure what Western values are but given the enduring popularity of the Big Bang Theory here, surely some of those values are Western?

Wait, doesn’t Marxism count as Western?


Cover image from China Daily