A group of motorcyclists plans to call upon 1,500 bikers to gather with their bikes in front of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications on Wednesday to demand that freeways be opened to heavy duty motorcycles.
The National Freeway Bureau (NFB) has previously refused the demand on the grounds that “public opinion polls and local governments are opposed to it.”
Meanwhile, the Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co said that changing the toll-collection system to accommodate heavy bikes would cost taxpayers approximately NT$1.3 billion (US$43.1 million).
Chen Li-yun (陳豊運), chairperson of a national heavy duty motorcycle management trade association, said that since Taiwan joined the WTO in 2002, heavy duty motorcycles — and even “yellow-plate” midrange bikes with engine sizes ranging between 250cc and 550cc — have been imported and licensed, and allowed to be used on expressways, but they still are not allowed on freeways.
Chen said that, according to a resolution passed by the legislature in 2011, the ministry agreed to conduct trial sessions for heavy duty motorcycles to run on certain sections of freeways in a certain time period, but the ministry still has not announced the trial sessions.
When the electronic toll collection (ETC) system began operating late last year it did not even consider motorbikers’ right of way, Chen said, adding that if a system amendment would cost billions, it would become even harder to get permission for heavy duty motorcycles to be used on freeways.
Chen said he understands that the public may have concerns about heavy duty motorcycles, but most bikers are law-abiding citizens.
While cars and motorcycles have the same right of way in some countries, bikers are treated like second-class citizens in Taiwan, he added, and that is why riders of heavy duty motorbikes have no choice but to protest against the situation.
NFB Deputy Director-General Wu Mu-fu (吳木富) said yesterday that the amended article passed by the legislature stipulates a conditional permission for heavy duty motorcycles to run on freeways “according to the ministry’s announcement” of the road sections which can be used during certain time periods.
The reason the ministry has not made any announcement is because public opinion polls and local governments all showed opposition to such a measure, he said.
Wu said that respondents in public opinion polls conducted in the second half of last year opposed opening freeways to heavy motorbikes because they “have bad impressions of heavy duty bikers, who like twisting though traffic, speeding, overtaking and displaying other inappropriate driving behavior,” because of “high accident rates” and because “the time is not right yet.”
Leu Wen-yuh (呂文玉), director of the bureau’s traffic management department, said the polls showed that 60 percent of respondents opposed the opening of freeways to heavy motorbikes, 27 percent conditionally approved (a partial opening of sections of freeways to heavy motorbikes) and 7 percent approved of opening freeways altogether, while the rest had no opinion on the issue.
Meanwhile, FETC spokesperson Rachel Chen (陳世莉) said heavy duty motorcycles were considered when the company tried out its toll-collection gantries, but because the bikes have no license plate in front, rear-view devices costing about NT$1.3 billion would have to be added to the system — and would have to be paid for by the government, because they were not part of the initial contract.