With Beijing's traffic problems growing worse, municipal authorities have rolled out their toughest set of policies yet to tackle the city's notorious congestion. Their focus will be on removing millions of private cars from the roads and modernizing the public transportation network to allow it to service more commuters.
The 5,000-word plan, issued Sunday night, was posted online Monday to solicit public opinion. It introduces six major measures to get to the root of the problems, including expanding public transportation construction, and curbing the number of privately owned cars. Other highlights cover higher parking fees, the levying of congestion charges and new underground tunnels.
The most controversial measures seem to be car-usage restrictions and congestion fees during peak hours. The oft-mooted plan to control the issuance of number plates for new cars is not included, but car purchases have surged of late as consumers reacted to media reports about new rules governing the sales of new vehicles.
Wang Hua, a 31-year-old resident who plans to buy his first car, was frustrated by the restriction on car purchases. "It would be unfair if I have to pay additional fees when purchasing a car," he told the Global Times Monday.
He Ji, an IT engineer in Beijing, complained that "Private cars are personal property. Owners should be entitled to choose when and how to use them," he said, adding that the current public transportation system can hardly meet his commuting needs. "If I could reach a subway stop within a 10-minute walk from my home, I would choose not to drive."
As of Sunday, 2,000 new cars were driving onto roads daily, twice the ratio at this time last year, according to the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau.
Beijing had 2.58 million cars in 2005, but that number has grown to 4.7 million today. The city's roads are designed to support a maximum of 6.7 million cars maximum, Liu Xiaoming, director of the Beijing Municipal Transportation Commission, was quoted by the Beijing Times as saying Monday.
Liang Qinghuai, a professor of planning and design of urban rail transit at Beijing Jiaotong University, told the Global Times that controlling the car numbers is the ultimate target. "Upgrading public transport requires huge and well-planned investment and construction. A quick solution is to cap car numbers on the roads."
Calling the restrictions on buying new cars unfair, Xiong Chuanlin, deputy secretary general of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, told the China Business News that car numbers are just part of the problem.
"Vehicle-usage habits in China and the lack of coordinated planning of urban transportation networks should be blamed for worsening congestion." He added that if policies "restricted car purchases in Beijing, other cities would follow suit," hurting the wider car industry.
"Among all the measures to be taken to make the city less jammed, slowing down the growth of private cars is the most pressing one," Xu Kangming, transportation expert and the municipal government's adviser, told the Global Times Monday.
Shao Chunfu, professor of urban transportation research at Beijing Jiaotong University, doubted whether a congestion charge would work in Beijing. "Beijing's public transportation system is already overcrowded. It can't take all the commuters who would abandon cars and opt to use public transport."
Mai Tran, a public relations consultant, defended the government's plans, as she relies on daily transportation. "Increasing parking fees and collecting congestion fees would help a lot," she said.
"Constructing sufficient public transportation and increasing the cost of owning a private car are ideal for curbing city congestion. Hong Kong also has a large population. If the city can succeed in this model, Beijing can also learn from this experience," Liang said.
He also noted that restrictions on government vehicles, another policy that was listed in the new plan could help ease the city's traffic burdens.