The Transition to Electric Bikes in China and its Effect on Travel Behavior, Transit Use, and Safety

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The Transition to Electric Bikes in China and its Effect on Travel Behavior, Transit Use, and Safety

The Transition to Electric Bikes in China and its Effect on Travel Behavior, Transit Use, and Safety
Submitted for Presentation and Publication
Call For Papers ABE90
86th Annual Meeting
Transportation Research Board
Submitted July 31, 2006
Word Count: 4,440 + 12 Figures (3,000 words) = 7,440


Despite rapid economic growth in China over the past decade and rise in personal car ownership, most Chinese still rely on two-wheeled vehicles (2WV) or public transport for commuting. The majority of these 2WVs are bicycles. In recent years, concern about poor air quality in urban areas and rising energy costs have caused cities to ban gasoline-powered scooters in city centers. Simultaneously, a new 2WV mode emerged to fill the void: the electric bike (e-bike).

This shift from bicycles to e-bikes is occurring at rapid pace throughout China, especially in large cities. E-bike sales reached 10 million/yr in 2005 as more bike and public transit users shifted to this mode. City planners and policy makers are undecided however on how to plan for and regulate e-bikes because it is not yet clear what effect they will have on travel behavior, public transportation use, and safety. In order to determine these effects, the authors have thus surveyed bike and e-bike users in Shijiazhuang (SJZ), a city with particularly high two-wheeled vehicle (2WV) use, to identify differences in travel characteristics and attitudes.

We conclude the following: (partial list)

* E-bikes are enabling people to commute longer distances. This will likely result in more employment opportunities and the further expansion of cities.
* People under-served by public transportation are shifting to e-bike.
* Women feel safer crossing intersections on an e-bike compared to regular bike, however they have strong reservations about e-bike speed.


Two-wheeled vehicles (2WV;e.g.bicycles, e-bikes, motor scooters, motorcycles) have historically been an important component of traffic throughout China and many other developing countries. In medium and large Chinese cities like SJZ, the dominant 2WVs are bicycles.

Bicycles, estimated at 450 million nationally in 2004 [], have been and still remain the dominant 2WV in Chinese cities, mainly due to low income, high population density (and thus short trips), and extensive bicycle infrastructure (e.g. lanes, parking). Based on statistical report in 2005, bicycle trip share is still over 50% in many large cities like Tianjin, Xi'an and SJZ [].

Gasoline-powered motor scooters (GMSs) used to make up a larger percentage of the overall 2WV population, however, beginning in late 1990s, many large cities (population >1 million) and most capital cities have stopped licensing these vehicles. Total GMSs in China numbered 80 million in 2005 []. Although numbers are still growing in the wide rural areas and small cities, it is estimated that without urban restrictions, 4~5 million more would be on the roads [].sales sitll ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������

In recent years however, due to improved standard of living and rapid urbanization, Chinese are upgrading from bike (or public transit) to electric bikes (e-bikes) as they demand more convenient and comfortable transportation. In 2005, there were an estimated 20-22 million e-bikes in China []. As incomes rise in smaller cities and rural areas, this transition will likely spread.

National E-Bike Standards are currently under revision and under intense debate. The standard regulates the technical performance specification of e-bikes (see section below). Bicycle proponents such as the China Bicycle Association (CBA) wants to limit e-bike performance to make them more similar to bicycle, and for fear that faster, heavier e-bikes will make them dangerous to cyclists. E-bike manufacturers, however, want to broaden the limits on weight, width and power to be able to build products that they claim customers want. Whatever new standard is adopted will greatly effect the future direction of e-bike development in China.

E-bike background

E-bikes can be classified as a “semi”-motorized vehicle because they can run on either human power or electricity. They have become a popular transportation mode in China because they provide an inexpensive form of private mobility and are thus an attractive alternative to public transit or regular bicycling. With an average energy consumption of 1.2-1.5 kWh/100km, e-bikes offer extremely efficient transportation with zero local air pollution. On-street surveying of e-bike proportions versus other 2WV modes by the authors in various cities has shown that in SJZ, e-bikes make up 22% of all 2WV traffic (bicycles=77.5% and motor scooters/bikes 0.5%). E-bikes proportions in cities like Chengdu and Shanghai are even higher: 51% and 30%, respectively.

There are two main types of electric bikes: “Bicycle style” (BSEB) (or “simple” style) and “scooter style” (SSEB) []. While the SSEB looks more like a typical scooter, both styles are subject to the same National E-bike Standards []:

1. Top speed=20 km/h,
2. Max weight=40 kg
3. Max range / charge =25 km
4. Max power=240W.

Despite these standards, most e-bikes exceed these performances limits due to strong consumer demand for better performance coupled with lax enforcement of the standard.

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