BEIJING - Authorities have released a draft plan to ease the capital's traffic gridlock - including a cap on government cars.
The plan, posted on the municipal commission of transport's website to gauge public opinion, could see Beijing take measures to ease population pressure in the downtown area and speed up construction of traffic infrastructure. It also advocates boosting public transport and strengthening regulations concerning car use.
One of the plan's major points is that Beijing will prohibit new government cars for the next five years, Jia Xinguang, an independent auto analyst, told China Daily.
The capital has around 700,000 government vehicles, nearly 15 percent of the city's car ownership, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.
"Government cars are far more frequently used than private cars, often for personal use. That contributes to congestion," Jia said.
Controlling the number of government cars is welcome but it is more effective to limit their use, he suggested.
Although the plan does not explain how to ease population pressure in central Beijing, the city's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) suggests that residents should be encouraged to live close to where they work to ease congestion.
Automobile ownership in Beijing stood at 4.7 million, as of Dec 5, and the city has 6.2 million registered drivers, official figures showed.
"The plan is comprehensive and provides some new ideas to ease traffic pressure, compared to some cities' measures such as merely limiting the granting of car license plates," Jia said.
Before the publication of the draft plan, rumors spread that Beijing will take a leaf out of Shanghai's book and limit the granting of license plates. One particular rumor suggested that anyone without a Beijing permanent residence permit would not be allowed to register a plate.
Shanghai granted 8,500 car license plates in November, with an average price above 45,200 yuan ($6,800) for each plate, the Financial News reported. But Beijing charges just 500 yuan for each plate.
"The exclusion of such strict measures in Beijing's plan shows authorities are very prudent when making policies. They made the plan with an approach to city planning," Jia said.
The city has been choked by several severe traffic jams this year, causing alarm bells to ring for policymakers.
The plan suggests repeating, "when necessary", a measure used during the Olympic Games, when cars were allowed on the road on the basis of odd-and-even license plates during peak hours.
The plan also advocates a congestion-fee charge "at an appropriate time" and preventing car ownership from increasing too fast, though it did not give details.
Chi Yifeng, general manager of Yayuncun Automobile Trade Market in Beijing, and vice-chairman of the China Automobile Dealers Association, said the draft plan shows that the government admitted it was lagging behind in traffic management and infrastructure.
"The promise of building more parking lots at subway stations proves that the authorities have noticed the importance of traffic infrastructure," he said.
Chi said the plan would not dampen people's desire to buy cars.
He said in his market, car sales surged 33 percent in November from the previous month and he predicted a higher rate of increase in December.
"Many dealers and customers have no idea" of just what measures the government might introduce and they are concerned that there could be strict policies down the road, he said.
Xiao Zhe, who is employed by an IT company in Beijing and has decided to buy a car, said he worries that some measures in the plan will change.
"Are all the previous rumors false?" he said.
"I want to know when the government will think it's necessary to limit cars and how they will control car numbers.
"I'm also worried that the government will bring in new plans to limit the granting of license plates," he said.
The draft plan was approved by the State Council and it will be open for public response from Dec 13 to 19.
To minimize traffic bottlenecks, Beijing now prohibits about 20 percent of cars during weekdays according to the last license plate number.