Friday, 24 December 2010

Beijing Attempts to Ease Congestion

Beijing has finally put its foot down and announced some harsh measures to tackle the number of cars on the Chinese capital's roads.

Yesterday the municipal government said it would only allow 240,000 cars to be registered next year through a monthly license plate lottery. That number will be two-thirds less than the 750,000 added this year. Currently there are 4.76 million cars in Beijing.

As a result of the new policy, anyone who could afford a car (or another one) rushed out to buy one by midnight last night.

"You've got to be quick and if you can pay a down payment of 2,000RMB ($301.75) before midnight today [Thursday], we can still file the purchases with car registries to get around the lottery draw," said Li Di, a sales representative at Beijing Borui Xiangchen Car Sales Centre.

Considering the cheapest car costs around 40,000RMB ($6,035), that's a very low down payment, spurring probably the last chance for car retailers to make their last fast bucks.

This mass panic buying hardly helps the road situation.

But there are other restrictions.

You can't enter this lottery if you have one or more cars registered under your name. And only those who have a Beijing hukou or household registration can be eligible for the lottery.

Also, cars that don't have a Beijing license plate will have to apply for a special permit to enter the city, and even if they have it, they cannot drive in downtown Beijing during rush hour.

This seems ridiculous to some academics who say Beijing is the capital city of the country and that everyone should be welcome regardless of where they come from.

"As China's centre of politics, economy, culture and transportation, Beijing is destined to see more people come in," says Professor Jia Xijin from Tsinghua University who was consulted on Beijing's transport programs. "As long as it remains the centre of power, the jam could never be fundamentally cured."

Eighty-eight percent of the licenses will be given to individuals, and organizations like companies and schools will have 10 percent. The rest will go to the transport sector like taxis.

However some believe these new measures are not going to work and that people will find a way around the rules. Bribery of traffic management officials and mass buying of cars from neighbouring Hebei Province could happen. This is what happened in Shanghai -- many people drive cars that don't have Shanghai license plates.

Enforcing the alternating days doesn't work either as people will just buy another car to be able to drive the other day.

Another problem is that the public blames the number of government cars on the roads for the traffic jams. However, no one knows exactly how many government cars there are -- both municipal and central and neither have released their numbers. Seems like the numbers are a state secret.

The traffic saga in Beijing will never end until the entire city becomes a parking lot.

Then maybe someone will actually do something.

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