The rush to relieve Beijing's traffic woes

December 27, 2010 | Posted by Vicky

A common traffic jam in the early evening in Beijing, China

Just before Christmas a few days ago, Beijing government authorities convened a news conference to outline emergency measures to fight the city's increasing traffic woes, including an aggressive effort limit the total number of new vehicles purchased in 2011.

Severe traffic in Beijing

With about 4.7 million cars currently on the road in Beijing -- nearly double the total 5 years ago -- city residents can attest that traffic in the capital city seems to be getting worse and worse. For example, in 2008 traffic gridlock amounted to 3.5 hours per day -- now fast-forward two years to 2010, and traffic gridlock amounts to 5 hours each day. On the bright side, use of public transportation has also increased almost 39% over the same period.

Relief measures

To combat increasing traffic, city government officials outlined aggresive plans to limit the number of new cars to hit the road. A key part of the plans is to limit the total monthly sales of new vehicles in the city for 2011, which have been capped at 20,000 new vehicles each month for the new year, totalling 240,000 new cars for 2011. Among these monthly targets, 88% are private cars and the remainder are for organizations and public transport. For individuals in Beijing looking to purchase a private car next year, they must enter into a lottery to determine if they will be assigned a license plate.

The measures also feature an increase in parking fees within the city of Beijing, which is designed to discourage city drivers from hitting the road and consider public transportation alternatives.

Outcomes of the measures

While it will be several months until the effects of the new traffic measures are clear, opinions on possible consequences of the new rules abound. Beijing residents are split among those that believe the measures are necessary to make the city's traffic more tolerable and those that are worried that the new car lottery will shut them out from buying a car next year. Car dealerships, too, have expressed concern that their sales figures will be affected negatively, but for the moment they are benefitting from a rush of buyers seeking to purchase a car before the quotas take effect next month.

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