Government proposals strongly influenced by the car and e-scooter lobby are set to forbid next-generation bicycles from public roads, forcing them to use only cycle tracks and effectively banning them from urban areas, according to documents seen by Transit Jam.
The government plans to treat “power assist” or e-assist bicycles – those with an auxiliary motor which assists the rider at lower speeds, and which are common and legal in many jurisdictions around the world – the same as all other e-mobility devices such as electric bikes with throttles, e-scooters and e-monowheels.
Transport Department (TD) documents put forward the regulatory framework to a select group of stakeholders earlier this month, supported by its two brief “site trials” held last year.
Cycling groups and campaigners say the government’s direction is unfair and unnecessarily discriminatory to bicycle riders who may wish to avail themselves of the latest “e-assist” technology.
Chan Ka-leung, long-standing member and spokesperson of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance (HKCAll), a group not invited to TD discussions on upcoming trials or regulatory direction, says people using e-assist bikes “should not be restricted from roads or the rest of Hong Kong where bicycles may go”.
“The Government seems to have started with the aim of restriction rather than identifying and enabling what is useful and appropriate for Hong Kong,” he says.
“They are ignoring the immense contribution that electric mobility is making to improving city life around the world. A key recognition in most jurisdictions is that e-assist bikes are truly bicycles, in terms of handling, function and safety, with the assist function very much an enhancement rather than a fundamental difference.”
HKCAll says e-assist bikes are quite different from the throttled electric bikes now proving popular with food delivery riders in delivery hotspots. Those throttled bikes often have higher horsepower and speed and can be ridden with virtually zero effort from the rider. E-assist bicycle motors, on the other hand, give the rider a push at lower speeds or on hills and cut out at higher speeds, usually 25 kph, from which point all the power comes from the rider.
Set in stone
Unfortunately for the bike campaigners, the government’s plans, while ostensibly open for feedback, appear set in stone.
A new e-mobility trial is proposed for later this year, but planning documents show the rules will be identical to earlier trials and will be strongly weighted towards proving e-scooters as “last mile” transport.
TD planning documents seen by Transit Jam invite stakeholders to submit feedback on the new trial parameters, but several campaigners who say they’ve submitted ideas and proposals to the government have earned back only the exact same copy-paste response rejecting their ideas.
The result will be a prejudiced trial, says HKCAll.
Just 12 pedal-assist bikers joined the last set of trials in Tseung Kwan O, accounting for around 15% of the machines used, while 80% of the devices used were e-scooters and e-monowheels.
“Many Hongkongers are already using e-bikes of various kinds, but Transport Department made no effort to find out how, or what people wanted. It’s like you test a car on a race track and then conclude cars are only safe to drive on a race track,” says Chan of those trials.
As earlier reported by Transit Jam, talks to develop a new code of practice for electric mobility were conducted largely in secret, with no cycle transport lobby present, and with strong influence from car lobby group The Automobile Association and e-scooter firms.
TD never answered questions on why a car lobby group, which has only around 1,400 members in Hong Kong and earns around 20% of its service income from insurance commissions, was offered a priority seat at the e-mobility table, while HKCAll was sidelined.
Government officials were present at the meetings, but no minutes, agenda or press release is available from the discussions.
Hong Kong Science Park itself is the main proponent of the new trial: but cyclists and commuters alike have long complained of the Science Park’s “anti-bicycle” approach, with no cycling or bikes allowed to be parked within the campus area and bikes, even folding bikes, banned from lifts or office areas.
Science park tenant Boris Yim, founder of a firm which makes folding electric scooters, is one potentially set to benefit from the new trial.
Yim’s nifty invention has been touted by backer Hong Kong University as “much better than bicycle sharing schemes” as the e-scooters “let users maintain normal standing forward posture, to allow normal use in skirts and high heels too”.
The proposed trial, one organiser said, aims to make the portable e-scooter an accepted mode of transport around the Hong Kong Science Park campus and connect e-mobility to local bus and MTR transport – a worthy aim, say bicycle campaigners, but not to be achieved at the expense of cycling development.
HKCAll says the government’s restrictive trial conditions and 20 kg weight limit will also hamper cargo bike development.
“Another great opportunity that the proposed regulations miss for Hong Kong is with cargo bikes, which would mostly fall foul of any 20 kg limit. Use of cargo bikes is skyrocketing globally, as their capacity and flexibility overcomes numerous challenges in keeping busy city centres operating efficiently,” says Chan.
TD says its processes are fair and that it has circulated documents on the proposed regulations to Sha Tin District Council Traffic & Transport Committee.
But with the e-mobility trial having city-wide repercussions and likely used as a basis to set long-term transport law, campaigners questioned why the proposals were only circulated to just one District Council committee and not to the wider political community.
Regulations sketched out
According to TD, the government plans to allow e-assist bikes on all bike tracks once regulations are firmed up, while e-scooters and other e-mobility devices will be allowed on cycle tracks in phases, starting with new towns and new development areas.
For the Science Park trial, which may run for around 6 months, helmets will be mandatory for all e-mobility devices, and an age limit of 16 will be imposed.
All machines will have a weight limit of 20 kg and a powered-speed limit of 25 kph, while e-scooters will be limited to 1.25 m long and bikes to 1.8 m long. E-assist bikes must meet EN15194 or equivalent safety standard while other e-mobility devices must adhere to EN17128.
The prescribed 2.5 km route for the upcoming trial, where e-mobility will be legal on cycle tracks, will run from Hong Kong Science Park to University Station, although a break in the track at Science Park Road will require riders to dismount. Riding anywhere else around the track will invite prosecution, as with earlier trials.
Running the full length of the legal track will take about 6 minutes at the proposed speed limit.
A product certification scheme will be developed in tandem with the new regulations, says the government, while it would not recommend any registration or licensing system, not require riders to take out insurance under the new laws.