Stricter rules on scooters see people hop on e-bikes

People are using public bike service Ttareungi and electric scooters without helmets in Seoul on May 12, 2021, a day before tighter regulations on personal mobility vehicles went into effect. [NEWS1]

People are using public bike service Ttareungi and electric scooters without helmets in Seoul on May 12, 2021, a day before tighter regulations on personal mobility vehicles went into effect. [NEWS1]

Electric bikes are seeing new popularity as the demand for electric scooters falls due to tightened regulations in the country.

Olulo, the operator of Kickgoing scooters in Korea, started its shared electric bike service last month. Other companies, such as PUMP, XingXing operator and Swing, are planning to introduce their own electric bike services in the latter half. Electric bikes from PUMP will use the company’s self-developed batteries.

Gbike, which operates Gcooter, is developing its own electric bike.

“Electric bikes are less regulated compared to electric scooters and cost less compared to other new businesses since there is not much to change from the previous software,” said a spokesperson for a scooter company.

“Local governments are also more positive about electric bikes compared to scooters.”

There are two types of electric bikes — with a throttle or with a pedal assist system (PAS). The throttle mode is similar to how a motorcycle works. The bike moves as soon as the handle is pulled.

Bikes with the PAS system only operate while being pedaled. These particular vehicles are classified the same as general bicycles, so they are not regulated by the Road Traffic Act. Driver’s licenses nor helmets are required to use these bikes.

Although these bicycles are mostly free from restrictions as of now, there is a possibility that rules may be added if accidents occur and complaints are made regarding how they are parked on sidewalks.

Many big mobility businesses have already been expanding their businesses in the electric bike market.

Socar acquired Nine2one, the operator of electric bicycle Elecle, last December. The e-bikes are currently available in major parts of Seoul, including Yeouido, western Seoul and Gangnam, southern Seoul, and will soon be expanded across the entire country.

Kakao T bikes are parked in front of the Pangyo Station in Seongnam, Gyeonggi. [KAKAO MOBILITY]

Kakao T bikes are parked in front of the Pangyo Station in Seongnam, Gyeonggi. [KAKAO MOBILITY]

Kakao Mobility, which operates Kakao T Bike, also increased its e-bike services from 10 regions to 18 this year. The average daily use of this service increased 18.9 percent on year in the second quarter, according to the company.

Despite the business expansion, there are questions about whether these services will be able to survive. Other public bicycle rental services that are currently in operation are seeing huge financial losses. Ttareungi, a public bike rental system operated by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, had over 10 billion won ($7.7 million) of current last year, which rapidly rose from a loss of 2.5 billion won in 2016.

With public bikes yielding high losses, local authorities are considering implementing private bike services instead due to their efficiency and for consumers’ convenience.

“We have concluded that it is more efficient to support and implement private services and abolish public bike rental systems, considering high operating loss and convenience of citizens,” said a for Ansan municipal government.

Some municipal governments are currently discussing with Kakao Mobility to introduce the company’s service to regions that do not have public bike rental systems and have low accessibility to public transportation.

“Electric bicycles are less energy-consuming [for riders] Compared to general bicycles, so people from more diverse people and older age groups will be able to use the service,” said a spokesperson for Kakao Mobility.

It is expected the competition in the e-bike market will become more fierce starting in September.

“Our company is planning to release 10,000 more electric bikes starting from September to the end of this year in Seoul and the rest of the country,” said Kim Hyeong-san, CEO of Swing.

BY YU SUNG-KUK [cho.jungwoo1@joongang.co.kr]