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In China, Bike Ban Highlights Importance of Two-Wheeled Transportation to Upward Mobility

Guangzhou, a major city in Southern China that has become the country’s export ‘capital’, helping to push the per capita income as high as $10,000 (very high for China), is the subject of a surprising new law which will ban motorcycles and motorized bicycles in the city. The ban is being called a “crime-fighting measure.”

According to an article on the front page of today’s New York Times, Guangzhou’s expanding wealth is creating an ever-widening financial gap between the city’s 7.5 million registered residents and the estimated 3.7 million migrants who head into the city from harsh rural areas, hoping to find factory work that will let them improve their day-to-day life. While the middle-class residents are benefitting heavily from the city’s financial growth (as shown by the gains in per capita income), that same wave of growth is being ‘carried on the backs’ of the migrant workers who provide the industrial workforce necessary to fuel this industrial juggernaut.

The newest feature in this quintessential drama is the motorcycle. Because this industrialized city is expanding in every direction (often referred to as urban sprawl), a worker looking for the best path to advancement must have the means to scour the entire city for the best available job, and then continue to arrive at said job punctually once it is theirs. While Guangzhou’s thriving middle class may be helping to fuel China’s domestic automoble market, the low-income migrant workers are saving their pennies to get their leg over an inexpensive, fuel-efficient motorcycle (or scooter)!

Unfortunately for these ambitious workers, many of those who are already members of the middle class have come to identify motorcycles with gang members, mainly because of a small but busy group of criminals who do indeed use bikes as transportation while committting their crimes. While this is unfortunate, the article makes it clear that motorcycles and scooters are vital to the ability of millions of Chinese to improve their lot in life.