When I first visited Beijing in 1985, I distinctly remember a lot of bicycles on the streets. And most of the time you heard bells ringing instead of the annoying car honks you hear now.
Although there are fewer bikes on the roads today, many of them are electric, very quiet, and go relatively fast. You can pedal them to recharge the battery, or plug it into a socket for a couple of hours.
For those who can't afford a car, but want a convenient way to get around, an electric bike is the next best thing.
However, some 40 million electric bicycle owners and producers in China were up in arms last week when the government decided to reclassify them as electric motor vehicles, which would have meant hundreds of thousands of people having to get licenses and insurance -- as of next month.
The Standardization Administration said earlier this month that electric bikes that weighed over 40 kilograms and could reach speeds over 20km/h would be classified as motor vehicles. There was no specific reason given, but one could read this was a way for the government to immediately earn more money and also kill this industry which is greener than cars, not to mention much cheaper too.
After the notice went out, an engineering professor who was an avid e-biker, explained to one media outlet that it was virtually impossible to make an electric bicycle lighter than 40kg.
The new regulation would have affected millions of electric bike owners and in turn would have severely impacted the industry which has more than 2,400 factories and thousands of employees. The China Bicycles Association had also drafted a letter to the industry body asking them to relax the restrictions.
But in an about face, the Standardization Administration has decided to suspend some requirements that could that would have restricted the use and production of electric bikes.
This means that this reclassification exercise may happen at a later date, or not at all.
The fact that the government body came up with this idea in the first place is absurd, without proper consultation, and making it effective almost immediately is ridiculous.
Do they not understand that people on low incomes need this mode of transport to get around, be it in the cities or rural areas? And as I said earlier, they are an excellent green option to gas guzzlers. And besides, isn't the government concerned about keeping the economy humming instead of killing off an entire industry because of bureaucracy?
An official in the Standardization Administration is either going to be "reshuffled" somewhere else or the central government will "strengthen supervision" of this department... stay tuned.