Our Chinese correspondent* has sent us some thoughts about the transport environment in Shanghai:
The biggest surprise of my trip has been the huge number of electric bikes and electric scooters – many powered by lead acid batteries. They are almost completely quiet and hum along the pedestrian-cycle paths on the sides of all the roads. There are no gasoline motorcycles at all.
The e-bikes are mainly completely powered (no e-assist) and go quite fast. At night no one uses the lights – probably to save batteries – so you have to quite careful on the footpaths. Because it is winter the scooters have permanently attached large gloves on the handles – sort of like over-sized oven mitts as well as poncho like shields attached to the front. Also not uncommon to see people tootling along holding an umbrella…
[* My father, who is currently on a business trip over there.]
China is currently the largest market for electric bikes and scooters. Although car sales have taken off in China over the last decade, e-bike sales have taken off faster:
Worldwide e-bike sales in 2010 estimated to be 24 million. About 300,000 in USA, about 700,000 in Europe, 1.2 million in India, Japan and Taiwan, and 21.6 million in China!
Electric bike sales have grown far faster than the sales of any other mode of transportation in China, from a modest 150,000 units sold in the late 90s to more then 20 million today. That’s three times as many as the most optimistic projections for cars sales in China for the near future.
Given population density and poor air quality in China’s large cities, it’s easy to see the attraction of e-bikes for both individuals and policymakers. They don’t contribute directly to smog and they don’t take up much space.
There’s been some speculation about whether China will import US-style auto-centric transport habits as it develops. However, it might make more sense for China to export its e-bike-heavy transport mix to other cities in Asia and Africa that are facing similar issues of bad air and overcommitted road space.