Beijing's municipal government is discussing the status of electric bicycles and whether to give them city permits. A ruling is expected later this year.
This could mean some noteworthy progress if they get official recognition because the capital has hundreds of thousands of owners who have been caught up in a debate over the matter for several years.
"We have submitted reports on licensing them to the municipal government for approval," said one Beijing Vehicle Management Office official who declined to be identified.
The electric-powered bicycle, which has a top speed 20 kilometres per hour, is a fairly recent development.
A draft of a traffic safety law is under discussion by the National People's Congress. The draft proposes that any motorized vehicles with a speed of less than 20 kilometres per hour and a weight of less than 40 kilograms be designated a non-motorized vehicle.
If the congress passes the bill, it could provide a legal basis for ending the quarrel over what kind of vehicle this is, according to Wang Bin, head of the Beijing-based Green Human Environment Institute.
The Public Security Ministry's Traffic Management Bureau says that local governments can develop their own policies on electric bicycles, judging from their traffic conditions, said Wu Jun, a bureau official.
Shanghai, Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, and several other cities, are already issuing licences for the bicycles.
Although Wu said they expected that some electric bicycles will be licensed this year in Beijing, they could be outlawed in future because of safety concerns (mainly their speed) and the pollution problem the used batteries pose.
Still, they have their defenders. "Electric bicycles seem to be the best choice for me in getting to work," said Li Liang, a 38-year-old accountant in Beijing. "It's tiring to ride an ordinary bicycle to work, which is far from my home. And, I'm afraid of traffic jams if I ride the bus."
Electric bicycles have been sold in China for several years although they have not been permitted to operate on certain streets or roads in many places.
At the end of last year, there were more than 400 factories producing 400,000 electric bikes a year.
(China Daily July 29, 2002)