Power Assisted Pedal Cycles not allowed on Road?

October 19th, 2020 | Posted by Ka Leung Chan in advocacy | ebike | general cycling | law

中文版 (Chinese version):“「電動輔助單車」不可踩馬路”

What is an “electric assisted bicycle”? What is the difference between these and ordinary bicycles?

Electric-assisted bicycles, as the name suggests, are bicycles that are mainly human-powered and supplemented by electricity. The way to move forward is to pedal with both feet. When the speed reaches 25 kph or above, the electric motor will cut out. Above 25 kph, such machines are entirely dependent on human power.

This offers the following advantages:

1. Better strength when going uphill, which helps to overcome gradients.

2. The same human energy output can support longer distances.

3. Saves effort, helps overcome the weight of freight, and helps Hong Kong commuters avoid the problem of arriving sweaty at their workplace.

4. Allows people of lower physical strength, or with slight disabilities or injuries to use bicycles.

In terms of driving speed, university research[1] shows the speed of ordinary people using electric-assisted bicycles is similar to that of ordinary bicycles, and some researchers [2] have found that using electric-assisted bicycles can also achieve the same amount of exercise as using ordinary bicycles.

What is the difference between “electric-assisted bicycle” and “electric bicycle”?

“Electric-assisted bicycle” refers to a bicycle (or tricycle) equipped with an auxiliary electric motor that operates only in support of human pedal power. It will only provide motor assistance when the user is pedalling. When a certain speed (generally 25 kph) is reached, the motor assistance stops.

“Electric bicycles” on the other hand refer to fully electric-powered bicycles, which do not necessarily have pedals (and are controlled by a throttle, like a motorbike). The speed and horsepower are often higher than for electric-assisted bicycles. In the laws of various countries, there are usually different regulations for “electric-assisted bicycles” and “electric bicycles”.

In Hong Kong, more and more people use electric scooters and electric-assisted bicycles, and the public and the Legislative Council are increasingly calling for the development and regulation of this area. It is hoped that Hong Kong can catch up with the world.

Recent developments in Hong Kong include the Government’s briefing on the results of the review on the use of electric mobility devices in Hong Kong, at the meeting of the Legislative Council Committee on Transport held on 19 June 2020, and the introduction of a regulatory system.

The Transport Department (TD) is currently planning to amend legislation to allow electric mobility devices (such as electric scooters, electric-assisted bicycles, etc.) to be used on the cycling track (only), and is seeking communication with the industry. On 14 October 2020, Hong Kong Cycling Alliance attended a meeting to exchange views between TD and invited cycling groups.

The discussion paper submitted by the TD to the Legislative Council and organizations mentioned that “electric mobility devices” will be divided into three categories:

(i) PMD, or Personal Mobility Device: common examples are electric scooters, two-wheeled electric scooters and electric unicycles; electric bicycles that do not need to be pedalled but are powered at high speed will also be classified as a PMD.

(ii) PAPC, Power Assisted Pedal Cycles: electric-assisted bicycles or tricycles equipped with an auxiliary electric motor and driven only in assisted pedalling mode to support pedalling force. Provide power but when reaching a certain speed, such as 25 kph, power assistance will stop.

(iii) “Electric personal mobility aids” PMA, Motorised Personal Mobility Aids (common examples are electric wheelchairs).

The Hong Kong Cycling Alliance has long striven to promote a welcoming environment for cycling in Hong Kong. Among the various “electric mobility devices” mentioned above, the Alliance is particularly concerned about the regulatory plan for electric-assisted bicycles.

This paper will not discuss “electric bicycles”, “electric scooters” or “electric wheelchairs”, the speed and horsepower of which may be greater than for electric-assisted bicycles..

Regulatory recommendations and discussion of the Transport Department

TD stated in the “Administration’s paper on review of the use of electric mobility devices in Hong Kong” (LegCo Document No. CB(4)698/19-20(02), hereinafter referred to as the “Paper”), that the government had reviewed the practices and regulations of 12 jurisdictions/cities, namely:

  1. Shanghai;
  2. Singapore;
  3. Tokyo;
  4. Seoul;
  5. Queensland (state), Australia;
  6. Victoria (state). Australia;
  7. the United Kingdom
  8. Germany;
  9. France;
  10. Barcelona;
  11. Washington DC; and
  12. New York State;

and used this review as a reference to formulate Hong Kong’s regulatory approach.

Regarding the circumstances in which the use of electric-assisted bicycles on the carriageway is permitted, the paper states:

“All jurisdictions/cities studied allow the use of electric assisted bicycles on the carriageway (if there is a dedicated bicycle lane on the carriageway, the electric assisted bicycle must use a dedicated bicycle lane)” (Paper page 3).

Since all 12 regions/cities allow the use of electric assisted bicycles on the carriageway, it is strange that TD recommends that electric-assisted bicycles should not be allowed on the carriageway.

TD’s reasoning, echoing its long-held opposition to cycling in the urban areas, is “We have carefully considered the local road conditions. The current road infrastructure design is centred on automobiles, and there is no dedicated cycle line. In fact, even in a non-central commercial area, Hong Kong is crowded with people and vehicles. Many roadside activities are also very frequent, so we recommend…electric assisted bicycles should not be allowed to be used on the carriageway.” (Paper, page 4).

Looking at many foreign examples, the usual practice is to basically treat “electric-assisted bicycles” (that is, they provide motive assistance only when pedalled, with motor assistance cutting out at around 25 kph) as a regular bicycles, because as long as the electric power is limited to a certain low level in terms of technical specifications, the actual performance of this “electric assisted bicycle” is very close to that of a normal bicycle [1], so it is suitable to be classified as a general bicycle.

This concept is applied in the European Union, the United Kingdom, North America, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and even China, and other advanced cycling countries. It is also feasible in the practical experience of various countries.

Ask the Transport Department why can electric assisted bicycle not use the road?

So why is TD still choosing to go against the trend of the world’s advanced laws and regulations, insisting to exclude electric-assisted bicycles from the roads and only recommend pedalling on the bicycle track?

The rationale given by TD is still the old-fashioned argument, that is, “there is no bicycle lane on the road”, “there are more people and more cars in the city”, etc.

And this so-called “reason” has been said for more than 20 years, right?

During this period, cities such as London and New York, which once had these same attitudes of “there is no bicycle lane on the road” and “there are many people and many cars”, have turned into bicycle-friendly cities!

In 2020, Hong Kong is still discussing how to prohibit electric-assisted bicycles from appearing on roads in the city!

The question in front of us is why ordinary bicycles can travel on the road, but 25kph electric-assisted bicycles can’t?

In the exchange meeting between TD and the cycling group, one of the reasons given by the TD was that electric assisted bicycles were not safe on the road. Then why is it that electric-assisted bicycles are less safe on the road than ordinary bicycles? Is it safer to ride on the cycling track only? If safety is a consideration, in theory, electric-assisted bicycles on the road should be safer than ordinary bicycles, because they should be safer if the speeds on the same road are similar to traffic (the average speed of traffic in Hong Kong is about 20 kph)

We think the authorities only need to refer to the European Union to regulate the technical specifications of electric-assisted bicycles, and treat electric-assisted bicycles as ordinary bicycles. It is the most reasonable approach to allow electric-assisted bicycles to use roads and cycle tracks.

On the contrary, the government has inspected 12 countries/regions/cities in the world and found that all of them have unanimously approved the use of electric assisted bicycles on the roads, yet our government still restricts the use of electric-assisted bicycles on the road.

To limit their use to cycling tracks, the authorities must provide very strong justifications to prove that electric-assisted bicycles are less suitable for use on the road than ordinary bicycles. Does the Transport Department have such a rationale? Otherwise, banning the use of electric bicycles on the road appears illogical and contrary to common sense. It only continues the unreasonable policies of TD which are blindly unfriendly to bicycles.

The following table: Regulations on the use of electric assisted bicycles on roads, cycle tracks and footpaths in various jurisdictions.
(In all locations, a driving licence is not required to ride an electric assisted bicycle on a road or a bicycle track.)

City/countryOn the roadOn the bicycle trackOn the pavement
ShanghaiYes (if there are no special lanes, keep to the right of the road)YesNo
TokyoYesYesYes (under 13 years old or over 70, speed limit 10 kph
SeoulYesYesYes (from 2018), children, elderly and disabled
QueenslandYesYesYes (pedestrian priority)
VictoriaYesYesYes (people under 13 or disabled)
UKYesYesNo
GermanyYesYesYes (under 10 years old)
FranceYesYesYes (under 8 years old)
BarcelonaYesYesNo
Washington DCYesYesYes (except for city centre)
New York StateYesYesNo
TaiwanYesYesNo
Regulations on the use of electric-assisted bicycles on roads, cycle tracks and footpaths in various jurisdictions.

[1] A comparative health and safety analysis of electric-assist and regular bicycles in an on-campus bicycle sharing system. regular bicycles in an on-campus bicycle sharing system.

https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_graddiss/2445/

[2] Physical activity of electric bicycle users compared to conventional bicycle users and non-cyclists: Insights based on health and transport data from an online survey in seven European cities

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S259019821930017X

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