The Yomiuri Shimbun
A revised rule allowing people to ride a bicycle carrying two small children came into effect Wednesday in Tokyo and 43 prefectures.
Under the new rule adopted by each prefectural public safety commission, if bicycles meet certain safety standards, riders can carry up to two children aged five or younger.
People who ride with two children on bicycles that do not meet the standards will be fined up to 20,000 yen for violating the Road Traffic Law.
However, new models of bikes introduced to comply with the standards have been criticized for being expensive compared with their conventional counterparts, with prices for the electrically assisted bikes starting at about 130,000 yen, whereas normal bikes usually sell for between 50,000 yen to 70,000 yen.
The National Police Agency, therefore, has announced that police will not crack down too harshly on people riding nonstandard bikes with two children, but will issue warnings or instructions until the new models become widespread.
Bicycles built to carry up to two children must be approved by the Bicycle Association (Japan). Three prefectures that have yet to revise the rule– Kumamoto, Oita and Yamagata–likely will make changes before the end of July.
Parents unhappy with prices
The new bikes went on sale across the nation Wednesday in accordance with the enforcement of the revised rule. However, many parents complained about the price tags.
Meanwhile, some bicycle manufacturers said they would only consider introducing similar new models after monitoring demand for the bikes.
In light of these circumstances, the introduction of subsidies by municipal governments or a bicycle rental system could prove crucial in the uptake of the new models.
At 9.30 a.m. outside a bicycle shop in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, parents and children checked the prices of 13 new bike models before the shop opened.
“I’ve experienced a few scary situations while riding a bike with two kids,” said Asuka Katsura, 23. “If the new models are safer, I’d like to give them a try.”
Two major bicycle makers, Bridgestone Cycle Co. and Yamaha Motor Co., launched new bicycles on the day.
Bridgestone started selling electric bicycles furnished with children’s seats for between 134,700 yen and 144,700 yen, whereas the firm’s normal bicycles retail for between 55,500 yen and 73,700 yen.
The firm said that it expects to ship more than 20,000 of the new models each year.
Yamaha also introduced a new electric bicycle for between about 130,000 yen to 150,000 yen, aiming to sell 7,000 a year.
Some manufacturers, however, are skeptical about whether the new models will sell well. “We’re not sure if they’ll really take off,” a Panasonic Cycle Technology Co. spokesman said. “We’ll consider introducing a new model based on the level of demand seen for the bikes.”
On Sunday, the Metropolitan Police Department held a test-ride event in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. However, many parents expressed dissatisfaction, saying such things as: “They’re too expensive” or “I won’t be able to use the bikes without a public support system that promotes the use of the bikes, such as a rental system.”
In connection with this idea, the NPA has sent a notice to police headquarters across the country asking them to introduce a rental system or other measures in cooperation with local governments.
In Maebashi, the municipal government on Wednesday began offering a subsidy to cover up to 50 percent, or 40,000 yen, to buy one of the new bikes, while in Mitaka, western Tokyo, the municipal government plans to introduce a rental system for the new bikes around autumn.
The vast majority of local governments, however, have no plans to introduce such measures.
“If we put top priority on safety, we must spend money to some extent,” said Yuki Sakai, who represents Mama-chari: Kodomo o Mamoru-kai (Association of Mama-chari Bicycle Users for Protecting Children), a civic group promoting safety measures for parents who ride bicycles with children. “Parents only need to ride bikes with two kids for a limited period of time. I hope each municipality will introduce its own measures.”
Jul. 2, 2009