Anyone wondering if Beijing's azure blue skies would last after the "green" Olympics left town (hello) can breathe a small sigh of relief. It took a few weeks, but in an effort to keep the skies and roads relatively clear, the Beijing government is putting its big, authoritarian foot down on the brakes and launching a car ban like the one it used during the Olympic Games.
Starting October 11, roughly a fifth of the city's cars will be kept from the roads on weekdays. Cars whose number plates end with 1 or 6 will be taken off roads on Monday, while those ending with 2 or 7 will be banned on Tuesday, and so on. The government has also hiked gas prices, and said it will limit the registration of new license plates to 100,000 (400,000 are registered every year at current rates), raise the price of parking downtown, and continue developing public transit. Will it work?Moment of Truth
As the Olympic period drew to a close in China's capital, commuters, environmentalists, and basically anyone breathing watched anxiously to see if the government would extend the powerful odd-even car ban. Or, to put it more simply, would officials opt for less traffic and pollution, or would they seek a return to hazy pre-Olympic days.
They chose the latter. And in a city with over 1,000 new cars each day, the traffic returned with a vengeance. Almost on cue, the air pollution index, based on a daily average from 27 monitoring stations across the city, has increased since then, from 26 two weeks ago to 104 last week. (Anything above 100, or 150 micrograms/m3 (150 μg m−3) of fine dust (PM10), is considered dangerous to the health of sensitive individuals. The WHO would beg to differ by the way: it sets its daily limit for PM10 at 50 micrograms/m3.)
But last Wednesday, new measures went into effect banning 30 percent of the government's cars from inner city roads. Its unclear how effective that measure will be given some officials' love for their sedans and their ability to avoid the ban by using cars with other license plates. Still, the rule set a precedent for the limitation on civilian cars.
To compensate drivers, who have already raised many concerns, restricted vehicles will be exempt from one month of vehicle tax and road maintenance fee a year. Drivers who breach the new rules will not enjoy the exemption.
Fuel Tax Hike and More
The government is pulling out other stops too. To accommodate the higher costs of gasoline that meets the Euro IV emissions standard, today Beijing raised gas prices by 8 percent, half the size of the tax hike it imposed in June. Now the most popular gasoline sells for 6.37 yuan (.93 U.S. dollars) per liter, up 0.17 yuan from Monday. But they're not stopping there.
According to The Beijinger, the city is
Limiting the issue of registration plates Only 100 thousand plates will be issued each year from now on. Considering 400 thousand new cars appear on Beijing streets every year at present, this measure will efficiently reduce the total amount of cars in the Capital.
Increasing the cost of parking Raising the parking charges is another measure. The price of the downtown parking lots might be 5 or 6 times higher than the current standard. The government hopes the economic level principle can improve the city's central part's traffic.
Developing public transport system and facilities The government is going to further strengthen the construction of the city transport system by the implementing a traffic network plan. The plan involves the construction of three more subway lines (14, 7 and 15), which will increase the total amount of and distance covered by subway lines to 270 km. The goal is to have one new line running every year and to achieve a comprehensive transportation system that is aimed at integrating the urban center with the rural area as well as speed up the parking and transferring facility construction of public transport
These latter, more permanent measures are certainly great developments, and in the long-run, more sustainable and easier to implement than a car ban. If Beijing can also improve the reliability and transparency of its pollution data, then it might really pave a good road forward.
The Beijinger: Beyond Odds and Evens
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