Kashgar: World Capital Of Electric Scooters
You’d probably not expect it here, but in the relatively unknown Chinese city of Kashgar the electric scooter is emerging quickly as a dominant means of transport.
In Kashgar, a major provincial city in the remote province of Xinjiang in Western China, where I was on holiday this summer, most people use scooters to travel around the city. But surprisingly enough, 95% of these scooters in Kashgar are electric! This makes the city, with about 1.5 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, probably the world capital of the electric scooter. Besides the fact that this is an interesting urban phenomenon, it’s good to see that some cities make serious work of electric transport. How come that the electric scooter is doing so well in Kashgar while the rest of the world still suffers from dirty ‘regular’ scooters? Can we actually learn something from the ‘Kashgar Approach’?
The immediate effects of this approach are very obvious in the city center — significantly less pollution (no smog, contrary to many other Chinese cities) and no noise pollution! Of course you have to watch out even more carefully when crossing the street because you can barely hear them coming, but that is something you can get used to.
In Copenhagen, a movement called Copenhagenize lead by blogger Michael Colville-Andersen, strives with a bottom-up approach for more bicycle and less car use in his city and in other cities around the globe. But is there such a thing as ‘Kashgarize’ going on? Not exactly. When asking why there were no ‘normal’ scooters in Kashgar, the locals simply replied by saying that the local municipality had forbidden them to ride normal scooters. And so the Kashgar people stuck to this rule. The Chinese way to organize societal problems is not bottom-up, but strictly top-down, which does have its advantages sometimes.
In Amsterdam — traditionally a city of cyclists — the cyclists lose more and more of their space on the roads and bicycle lanes to the upcoming ‘normal’ scooter, which is not exactly the way to go. So what to do about this problem? Simply forbidding normal scooters would lead to a time-consuming process of trying to change the complex Dutch infrastructure laws. And even if a law would come in place, many people would probably continue riding their scooters illegally. So even though many people are frustrated by the exploding numbers of scooters in Amsterdam, the local government doesn’t seem to be able to do anything about it.
A playful form of protest against this scooter terror comes from ‘De Eerlijke Brommer’ (‘The Fair Scooter’). This activist groups tries to ban the scooter from the bicycle lanes to the main streets by showing an image in which the scooter rider gets his exhaustion gases right in his face, instead of the cyclists behind him. A nice and original way of protesting, but probably not the way how real change will take place.
A more drastic solution was taken up in the city of Saigon in Vietnam, where scooters simply got their own lane on the streets. However, the number of scooters in Vietnamese traffic is so enormous, especially compared to the number of bicycles and cars, that there simply was no other solution.
Kashgar was really a relief compared to home, but what can we do in Amsterdam to diminish the amount of extremely noisy and polluting scooters? Should we make normal scooters somehow uncool? Can we make a start by calling the electric scooters ‘normal scooters’? Or should we, like in Kashgar, simply forbid these noisy and dirty scooters? Hopefully the Kashgar policy can somehow serve as an example.