Law and Enforcement

ILLEGAL E-BIKES SOAR IN POPULARITY: 76% OF TST DELIVERY BICYCLES ARE ELECTRIC

An e-bike in Tsim Sha Tsui: these machines have become the transport mode of choice for delivery workers

Over three-quarters of delivery cyclists in Tsim Sha Tsui are now using e-bikes deemed illegal for public use by Transport Department, according to a survey by Transit Jam.

A count of moving delivery bikes along Nathan Road outside iSquare at a weekend lunchtime revealed 76% of delivery riders were using electric-powered bikes, against 24% on conventional bikes.

The stretch of Nathan Road separating iSquare and Chung King Mansions is well-used by delivery riders, with around 136 riders per hour observed along the street in both directions.

At the same time, two-thirds of all delivery bike riders seen on Saturday were not observing traffic law, with many either cycling against the Nathan Road traffic flow, cycling on the pavement or cycling across the pedestrian crossing at Chung King Mansions.

The rider of a classic Hong Kong cargo bike wends his way across a pedestrian crossing – but not all riders were as considerate as this rider when taking such shortcuts, with around 8% behaving recklessly

E-bike riders were more often seen lawbreaking (78% against 29% of pedal cycle riders), particularly at the crossing when heading in or out of buildings around Chung King Mansions, preferring to ride right up to or right from the entrance of the buildings. Most pedal cycle riders dismounted at that crossing and walked across to their final destination, or walked across the crossing before starting to ride.

While the majority of these riding on pavements or crossings seemed to be sharing the space courteously, around 8% of those lawbreakers acted recklessly or irresponsibly – the worst case involved an e-bike rider moving at speed along the crowded east-side pavement using an air horn to alert pedestrians to get out of his way.

For the survey count, electric bikes were easily identified, usually by their mode of riding (at speed or accelerating with no pedalling) or from features such as battery packs and rear hub motors.

Many of the e-bikes inspected in the area were “home-made”, with batteries, controls and electric hubs fitted to regular mountain bikes. They were also quite poorly maintained, with rusting chains, worn brake-pads and removable batteries sometimes held on by elastic bands.

Riders in the area said e-bikes were a great choice for delivery, requiring very little effort to use and with batteries which could last for several delivery shifts. “It lasts about 9 hours if going ‘slowly slowly’, or maybe 6 hours if going fast,” said one e-bike rider working for Food Panda, adding his battery pack took about five or six hours to charge.

Targeted police operations in the district have seen dozens of e-bike riders nabbed and charged for e-bike and cycle traffic offences in the last year. But regular beat cops passing by Chung King Mansions this weekend seemed unconcerned by the e-bikes or cyclist behaviour. Riders, for their part, seemed unconcerned about beat cops, although most cyclists riding on the pavements did dismount when espying police.

The government has indicated new e-mobility laws will be coming next year, allowing e-bikes and e-scooters to be legally ridden – but plans revealed so far indicate e-bikes would be limited to cycle tracks (of which there are none in Kowloon, outside Tseung Kwan O).

Experts watching the legislative process say e-bikes and e-scooters will likely not be legalised for use on public roads at all, with e-cargo bikes also to remain banned across the territory, even on cycle tracks.

And the type of throttle-only e-bikes, popular amongst delivery workers and where no pedalling is required for the motor to run, would likely remain illegal even for use on cycle tracks, say observers, envisaging future tension between bike riders, policymakers and law enforcement.

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