I just read in the paper today that Beijing has 4.7 million cars. Did I miss the headline about the Chinese capital having passed the four million mark?
And now it has received the honour of having the world's worst traffic, tied with Mexico City.
Hmm -- horrific traffic jams do tend to happen when people buy too many cars and there aren't enough roads for them. Welcome to our world.
And now the municipal authorites are proposing to break the gridlock by encouraging residents to get back on their bicycles to commute!
Excuse me, but if someone buys a car it's because they don't want to pedal themselves around anymore. They want to show they've made it with the car as their status symbol. No way are they going to step out of the car unless everyone else is made to do so.
Song Guohua, a professor specializing in urban planning at Beijing Jiaotong University said changing people's attitudes to commuting would be more difficult than implementing control measures.
"Most people in the city have enjoyed driving on their own for only a few years. Unlike people in developed countries, it is still a fresh thing to them," he said.
This is the fault of the central government that stimulated the car market a few years ago with tax cuts and subsidies, making China the number one car market in the world. Sales of passenger cars in November jumped 29.3 percent from last year to a monthly record of 1.34 million units. And in Beijing there were more than 20,000 vehicles sold in the first week of December, more than double the 9,000 sold in the same period in 2009.
The Beijing government is considering a series of measures including imposing congestion fees, bringing back the odd and even number license plate days from the Olympics and making 50,000 bicycles available for rent at subway stations by 2015. There will also be more subway lines by that time. However, that's four years away. The city needs solutions now -- which should have been thought about years ago.
Nevertheless Song pointed out some 30 percent of the capital's population uses public transport and is confident it will reach half by 2015.
However, there seems to be no foresight on the part of the municipal and central governments about the consequence of people buying more cars. Perhaps the government was too keen on boosting its car industry without realizing this would affect roads, traffic, commutes and people's stress levels.
And to make matters worse, there was a rumour going around that those who did not have Beijing hukou, or a residency certificate, that they would soon be barred from being able to buy a car. So what did they do? Madly rush out and purchase one.
But perhaps the most ironic thing is the government trying to push people back onto bicycles again. And surely that proposal won't get much traction with new car owners. So the frustrations of commuting with continue.
Thank goodness I don't live in Beijing anymore.