Under a plan delayed by lawsuits, an expanded area of the city’s downtown is becoming a pedestrian zone off limits to cars and motorbikes as of January 1st 2014.
Bernhard Fray Jaeggi, head of traffic police in Basel, announced this week that electric bikes with yellow licence plates would not be allowed on cycling routes through the city centre.
“Such vehicles reach speeds of up to 60 kilometres an hour,” Jaeggi is quoted as saying by the Tages Anzeiger newspaper.
“They are considered to be motor vehicles and not light motor bikes.”
The decision came as a surprise to the head of Basel city’s government, Guy Morin, a member of the Green party who rides to work on an electric bike with a yellow licence plate.
But on Tuesday, Andreas Knuchel, a spokesman for the police department said the announced policy on electric bikes was “not correct”, the Basler Zeitung newspaper reported.
Bikes with yellow plates would be allowed to take routes through the city centre “if they turn off the motor”, Knuchel said.
Operators of such bikes could be fined if they turn on their motors, he said.
Heiner Vischer, a Liberal party member of Basel’s city council who also uses a high-speed electric bike, said the policy was absurd.
“Why do I have to switch off the engine if I stick to the specified speed?” Vischer is quoted as saying by Basler Zeitung, adding that his bike is equipped with a speedometer.
Electric bikes without yellow plates can operate as usual in the city centre under the policy.
The yellow licence plates were introduced several years ago in Switzerland for electric bikes capable of traveling more than 25 kilometres an hour.
The regulations deterring electric bikes in Basel’s pedestrian zone come after the city, like many other municipalities in Switzerland, offered financial incentives for buyers of such bikes, seen as environmentally friendly.
The city paid more than 1.8 million francs to provide buyers of e-bikes discounts between 2000 and 2012, the Basler Zeitung reported.