Eight days, during daylight hours only: that’s the extent of the government’s first pilot trials of e-scooters and e-bikes, with a one-month permit application process and a deposit required for users wishing to take part.
The government says special e-mobility permits for the trial, which runs four days in Sha Tin in mid-December and four days in Tseung Kwan O straddling New Year, will be available through “an event organiser”, by filling out a form and supplying supporting documents from next week. “It will normally take about one month for the moving permit application process,” says the Transport Department (TD).
Six representatives from the bike and scooter industry, including one from the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance (HKCAll) and three from the Cycling Association, met with two officials in Mong Kok on Wednesday (14 October) to discuss the upcoming trial and the rules allowing, for the first time, electric mobility devices and e-bikes on Hong Kong’s cycle paths.
Under the trial, TD will allow e-bikes and e-scooters along a 1km stretch of cycle track running past Hong Kong Science Park from 11-14 December; and along a 1.4km stretch of cycle track in Tseung Kwan O from 29 January to 1 February 2020. The pilot will only run from 10am to 6pm on each day, and devices will not be allowed on local roads.
Officials said they would video interactions during the trials to see if there was a big difference in driving behaviour between users of e-mobility devices and those on e-bikes.
Rules are tight, according to TD documents: after obtaining a permit and paying a deposit, users must wear helmets, have lights front and back as well as having their machines fitted with braking and parking mechanisms, and speedometers or apps which work as speedometers.
One attendee to the meeting Wednesday night suggested simplifying the permit or licence process to be similar to the city’s now-defunct Mountain Bike Licence scheme, whereby users needed only write in to Agricultural and Fisheries Department to receive their licence. TD had said it would consider the idea. But with TD now saying “supporting documents” and a deposit are required for a permit, it seems this suggestion has been ignored.
Another attendee questioned why e-bikes were not allowed on roads, in contrast to many other countries around the world. TD gave its now-familiar stock response to the question: “We have given careful thought to the circumstances of the local roads. Considering that the existing road infrastructures are mainly designed for motor vehicles without any designated bike lane and the fact that vehicular and pedestrian traffic as well as kerbside activities are extremely heavy in Hong Kong even outside the central business districts, we propose that motorised [e-scooters] and [e-bikes] should not be allowed on carriageways.”
The Chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance (HKCAll), Martin Turner, claimed the whole pilot was a flag-waving exercise for the government, restricting legitimate bike users from using public roads.
“TD claims to expect to learn something about human behaviour by these two oh-so-different categories of people – people on bikes and a handful of people on bikes with a booster. It’s just a fig leaf. They’ll declare it a ‘success’ and then feebly ‘allow’ (ie restrict) e-bikes on cycle tracks. And hence fail to serve almost everyone who rides them already, or might do. It’s a heinous restriction of opportunity for Hongkongers,” he said.