Lawmakers yesterday took advantage of a debate on mandatory cycle helmets to push for a tougher regulatory regime for bicycle riders including driving licences, speed limits and further road restrictions.
During a brief Transport Panel session attended by only around 11 lawmakers, two legislators – DAB’s Chan Hok-fung and Kowloon City’s Yang Wing-kit – called for a licensing system for people wishing to use bicycles.
“When I drive, [people on bicycles] are on the road, they should take a test like motorists, it’s dangerous” said DAB’s Chan. “I am a driver, when I drive on a narrow road I see cyclists riding on the road, it is really dangerous. If they ride on a normal road, shouldn’t they have to take the exam for a licence like motorists?” he said.
And Yang, a so-called “independent” lawmaker, said he saw food delivery riders “ride their bicycles all over the place and park them wherever they like, it is really dangerous […] There should be a requirement and a test for a licence and then riders will pay attention to road safety.”
Edward Mak Chun-yu, Deputy Secretary for Transport and Logistics, rejected the idea of a bicycle licence, claiming that the government would follow “international norms” on the issue.
But the government had until this year made the same response to calls for mandatory bike helmets, claiming overseas experience showed it to be a bad idea.
Yet a few months ago the government reversed its position, putting forward the legislative proposals as part of a slate of “road safety” legislation along with laws on limiting the number of digital screens for drivers and requiring child safety seats.
Transport Panel members present yesterday approved the new proposed helmet law, under which people of all ages face a fine of $2,000 for not wearing a cycle helmet while using a bicycle.
The government says the idea has broad support, including from auto lobby groups, and that dissent was a “minority view”.
However, Hong Kong’s largest cycling lobby group, the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, says the law will have a net negative impact on public health, reducing take-up of healthy active transport.
On social media, many netizens have been claiming the mandatory helmet law would also spell the death of the “dockless bike” business.
“Locobike may as well pack up its bags,” said one member of popular Facebook group Street Reset, talking of one of Hong Kong’s last surviving dockless-bike rental firms.
At the Transport Panel meeting yesterday, FTU lawmaker Lok Shung-hung claimed there was a loophole in the new law in that children under 10 could not be held criminally liable.
Transport Department’s Michael Law Hing-sun said the government would discuss the issue with the police.
Meanwhile Roundtable’s Michael Tien, a member of Our Hong Kong Foundation, said speed limits and road restrictions should be imposed for cyclists.
“Singapore require a maximum speed of 25 kph for cycling tracks and they also have special enforcement teams for cyclists in collaboration with the police,” he said, asking officials if they would consider following Singapore’s example.
Tien put forward the idea of “forbidden areas for riding bicycles, for example around steeper hills or single lane roads.
Transport and Logistics Bureau’s Mak said there is already a 50 kph speed limit on cycling tracks, designed to work for cyclists of different calibres. “We will closely monitor the situation to see if there is a reduction in bicycle accidents.”
Transport Panel chairman Frankie Yick Chi-ming did not allow Mak to respond to the question of banning bikes from hills or narrow roads, claiming time was up.
The legislative session then moved onto proposals to allow autonomous vehicles to enjoy wider regulatory freedom in Hong Kong.