Edition 19 April 2019, by Megan Jancike
Made-in-Holland electric freight vehicles, known as ‘stints’, will soon make their way back to the Dutch roads. After the horrible accident in Oss in September last year, when a stint carrying five children was hit by a train, killing four and wounding another and the driver, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W) decided to ban these electric cargo bikes. Later, it announced they would be readmitted on the roads, if stricter safety requirements were met
Anyone living in Holland cannot have missed the eye-catching bike-turned-mopeds buzzing around and often carrying up to ten young children. The stint has, since 2011, become a highly visible phenomenon on the roads in Holland, as schools and daycare centers consider them a cheaper, easier-to-handle and safer alternative to transporting children than the bus or taxi. And they are not only used for driving kids around, but also for package delivery, garbage collection and road maintenance. Before the deadly incident in Oss last year, as many as 3000 electric stint carts had been sold or leased.
From famed to infamous
Business was good at the Bilthoven stint manufacturer Edwin Renzen, and its many customers were mostly satisfied with the product. Then the accident happened on 20 September of last year. A 32-year-old daycare employee driving a stint with five young kids approached a closed railway crossing, but the brakes were not working and the stint was hit by a train passing by at full speed. Two four-year-old girls, a six-year-old and an eight-year-old did not survive the impact; an eleven-year-old and the driver did, barely. “It was a day that you hope will never come”, were the emotional words spoken by Oss mayor Wobine Buijs at a press conference that afternoon. “This is every parent’s worst nightmare”, said the equally emotional manufacturer of the stint that same day.
As massive shockwaves rolled the country following the tragedy, politicians in The Hague reacted with outrage. Passions rose and in what the Dutch call ‘paniekvoetbal’ (panic football), I&W minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen banned all stints from the Dutch roads following a preliminary investigation of the accident. Stint manufacturer Renzen recalled all vehicles, concluded that his business was finished and filed for bankruptcy.
New times, old rules
The reality is that electric bikes and carts like oxboards, e-bikes, trikes, segways and stints have over the years blurred the lines between various types of transportation in the categories ‘cyclike’, larger motor vehicles or (special) mopeds. As the bike-crazy and innovative country that the Netherlands is, successive governments have stimulated the development and road accessibility of these new forms of personal transportation, but the current traffic rules still date from last century.
This means that the rules are outdated and electric transportation manufacturers don’t know which inspection requirements they have to meet. Does a bicycle cease to be a bicycle when it has a throttle or when it has an electric engine supporting the pedaling mechanism? Can an electric freight vehicle be permitted on the main roads or should it be restricted to bike paths? To bring order to all this fuzziness, the Dutch government introduced the new category of ‘special mopeds’, to which the stint also belonged, allowing them access to public roads after having passed a number of technical (safety) requirements.
When after the Oss accident, minister Van Nieuwenhuizen banned stints from the roads, a huge groundswell of support for the stint rose around the country, mostly from parents, schools and daycare centers. As it turned out, people and businesses were not ready to say goodbye to their beloved cargo-bike-turned-moped. Nobody wanted to go back to the old situation, where children would have to walk to school or be transported in cargo bicycles, buses or expensive cabs. And although an investigation by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) concluded in December that stints were not yet road-safe, the Minister of I&W stated that she would lift the ban on electric cargo bikes. Stint manufacturer Renzen revoked his bankruptcy filing, feeling supported by parents and schools, and sensing a second chance for his company.
Back on the road soon
So the stint will be back. Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen announced new and stricter rules for vehicles like the stint, so they can be allowed on the streets again. Some of the new security measures include an additional brake, seats fitted with safety belts and a maximum of eight instead of ten persons to be transported. This means that the 3000 recalled stints will not have to be destroyed, but can instead be refitted.
Perhaps as soon as this summer, the quintessentially Dutch stints may once again be seen all across the country.