Mon, Jul 03, 2006 - Page 1 News List

1,500 bikers take to the streets to demand open roads

CHOPPER TIME Only two of the nation's highways are open to motorcyclists riding bikes with engines bigger than 250cc, and they want that to change soon

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

More than 1,500 motorcycle owners from across the nation yesterday do the V-sign while chanting ``Return our road rights'' and ``Bikers aren't criminals'' during a demonstration in Taipei to demand that license fees be lowered and a freeway ban on motorcycles be lifted.

PHOTO: CHANG CHIA-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

More than 1,500 motorcycle owners from across the nation yesterday took to the streets of Taipei on their bikes yesterday, demanding that the government establish a clear timetable for opening more highways for bikers.

The demonstrators rode their motorcycles to Taipei City Hall and the Legislative Yuan, while chanting "Return our road rights" and "Bikers aren't criminals" in front of the two buildings, led by the spokesman for more than 68 motorcycle dealerships across the country, Chen Feng-yun (陳豐運).

The demonstration was the 12th major public event organized by motorcycle dealerships since the country's first motorcycle protest -- also led by Chen -- in 2003.

Motorcycles with an engine capacity of more than 150cc did not become legal until Taiwan joined the WTO four years ago, but the right to drive them on various highways has been granted grudgingly.

More than 20,000 people -- most of whom are male -- own large motorcycles in Taiwan, according to a recent article in the Chinese-language magazine New Taiwan Weekly.

Highways 68 and 72 in Hsinchu County were the nations' first -- and remain its only -- two highways open to motorbikes with an engine capacity of more than 251cc. The speed limit on both roads is 90kph.

Chen accused the government of not keeping a promise to open up more highways to bikers after making the two expressways in Hsinchu accessible to them in January.

He said motorcycle dealers had noticed a rapid improvement in bikers' awareness of traffic rules and manners during the 28 traffic safety conferences held by dealerships over the past 18 months.

He added that, given the low rate of traffic violations and accidents involving bikers between January and last month, the government should allow bikers to ride on more highways starting next year.

If the government cannot allow bikers on all of the nations' highways immediately, Chen said, it should at least make 12 highways across Taiwan available to motorcyclists as soon as possible.

He added that if the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) did not respond with an explicit timetable, motorcyclists may claim road rights and take to the highways anyway.

One motorcycle enthusiast, a 30-year-old man surnamed Liu, told reporters that although the registration tax for large motorcycles was high, he still bought a bike for NT$420,000 about a year ago, because he had read about the government's plan to open highways to bikers.

He said he now feels as if he was deceived.

Taipei City Department of Transportation Commissioner Hsu Yung-fa (許永發) received the demonstrators' petitions on behalf of the department's director-general.

He said the department will review its policy on large motorcycles, but added that opening up Taipei's Civic Boulevard, Jhou-mei Expressway and Riverside Expressway -- as requested by the demonstrators -- affected "security issues."

"Currently there is no room for negotiation," Hsu said.

Taipei City Council Deputy Speaker Li Hsin (李新) promised bikers the council would urge the city government to allow them on the Jhou-mei Expressway and the Riverside Expressway during specific hours on holidays.

Meanwhile, Liu Shih-ming (劉士銘), the chief of the vehicle supervision section at the MOTC, said the ministry was not considering opening more highways to large motorcycles at this time.

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