Motorbikes Scooting Back in Beijing – what are the motorcycle rules?

Beijing CBD Motorcycles

All shot in one day: Motorcycles on Guanghua Road

It seems that there are a lot more gasoline powered motorbikes on Beijing’s roads this year with the coming of Beijing’s automobile license plate limits — and I have become quite curious about their legality, as well as about their environmental impact.

When I first came to Beijing in 2006, it seemed that there were significantly fewer motorbikes here than where I had spent 2005 — in Changsha.  In fact, in my memory, besides 3-wheeled vehicles, there were practically no motorbikes.  This was reinforced for me in 2008 when one of my foreign colleagues had her motorbike confiscated by traffic police.  Around the time of the Olympics, I’d say there were only electric 2-wheelers on the road.  I could be wrong, but I’ve got a pretty strong feeling about that.

Recently, another friend of mine stopped using her motorbike because she wasn’t allowed to fill it inside the city.  This got me looking into the rules.

According to the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, some questions have been rolling in about legality of motorbikes in Beijing City.  The answers are as follows (translated from Chinese):

Motorcycles are managed according to the following rules in Beijing:

  • On Changan Jie (from Xinxing Bridge to Guomao Bridge), motorcycles are forbidden from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm;
  • Motorcycles are always forbidden on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th ring roads;
  • Motorcycles with a 京B license plate, and all motorcycles with license plates from outside of Beijing are forbidden from operating inside the 4th ring road (not including the side-roads)

This leaves only the 京A license plates allowed for use within the 4th ring road, with the limitations listed above.

So what does it take to get a 京A license plate for a motorcycle in Beijing? That’s tricky — Beijing stopped issuing 京A license plates in the 1990s!  So, you’ve got to make your way down to motorcycle markets in southern Beijing where a second-hand plate will cost you RMB 12,000 — about the cost of a motorcycle.  The prices for 京A plates have risen from RMB 10,000 last year, and 9,000 the year before that.  It’s no wonder that of the 25 motorcycles I photographed yesterday (and put in the collage above), only 2 of them had 京A plates!

So why not e-bikes?  Aren’t they the hottest thing in Asia these days?  As one motorcycle salesman said, compared with the electric bicycle, motorcycles can go further distances and have longer lives – up to 10 years with proper maintenance, while electric bikes generally last for three years.  A friend of mine who bought a motorcycle (and who used to own an e-bike) also said that he hated dragging the 14 kg battery around to charge it at night.  Gasoline is just so much more portable!

The license plate limitation policy in Beijing is having far-reaching effects on the automotive industry in Beijing.  People need practical vehicles, and e-bikes seem to be not able to fill their requirements.  Gasoline-powered motorbikes are practical, but do not have policies to support them, resulting in a mostly illegal fleet of motorbikes on Beijing’s roads.  This means everyone is just waiting for the day when Beijing’s traffic police have an “Illegal Motorbike” campaign and clean them all off the road again.

Traffic management in an overpopulated city is not an easy issue to deal with.  Planning has to be smart, flexible and practical for urban residents.  Is Beijing up to the challenge?

Lone rider

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