Post-Olympics Beijing To Traffic: "Welcome Back!"

Photo: Reuters

Beijing will not extend its Olympics-time odd-even car restriction policy past its deadline of Sept. 20th, officials said this week, as the Paralympic Games drew to a close. Drivers will be "encouraged" instead to leave their car at home one day a week.

The return to Beijing's traffic- and smog-heavy status quo will mark the end of what may have been the world's largest pollution control experiment: a restriction on cars, factories and construction that lasted for two months and resulted in the clearest skies Beijing has seen in a decade and raised vehicle speeds 10 percent to 43 kph.

A car ban will however is being implemented for government-owned vehicles based on the last digit of their license plate number. Its unlikely it will be very effective, considering that officials often have access to a number of different cars: if one car isn't allowed on the roads, another is usually on hand.Future Plans?
But Zhou Zhengyu, the deputy director of the city's traffic bureau, hinted that the government would study public support for the larger restrictions, and that similar policies might be implemented in the future.

"We have heard many calls and praise on this and other matters, and are in the process of analyzing this," he said. "Please stay tuned, announcements will be made at an appropriate time."

The measures, which were imposed on July 20, nearly three weeks before the August 8 start of the Beijing Olympics, removed more than more than one million of the city's 3.3 million vehicles from the roads.

Government Reluctance
After public surveys publicized by state media showed a majority supported the restrictions, some officials indicated that the government had not ruled out continuing the measures. If there was real debate within the government, it would have been very interesting to have been a fly on the wall during the final discussions.

Then again, it's doubtful that those ultimately in control could let a restriction like this stand, considering the taxes the government collects from automobile sales, its own stake in the auto industry, and the protestations of middle-class car owners.

Officials to Set Example?
Meanwhile, according to car restrictions quietly announced last month, government officials will be made to offer an example to the rest of Beijing by limiting their driving.

All 300,000 government-financed cars -- many of them tinted black Audis and Volkswagon sedans -- will be divided into five groups from Monday to Friday, depending on the last digit of the license plates. Those with license plates ending in a 1 or a 6 will be banned from the roads on Mondays, those with plates ending in a 2 or a 7 will be banned on Tuesdays, and so on.

As one government driver told China Daily, the ban is about sending a firm message on the environment, something it has tried before.

"What's important about the restriction is that the government is showing its attitude and giving a signal to citizens," said Li Jun, who has driven cars from the Chinese Academy of Arts, a government-funded institution, for 10 years.

But how will Party officials get between meetings and elaborate dinners? The BRT-powered bus system? The awesome new subways?

"We'll just arrange another car to drive our chief. Or we can just buy a new car," added Li.

That's more like it -- setting an example through propaganda, not actual example!

Still, while Beijing needs to find ways to slow its car craze, car bans are not a be-all end-all solution. As I argued a few weeks ago, they may even distract people from fixing the real problems. License plate fees, cuts in fuel subsidies, car-pool lanes, and congestion pricing might work better to cut traffic and pollution over China's otherwise often lovable capital.

"A lot remains to be done to further improve the traffic in Beijing," Zhou acknowledged. "It's not going to be completed overnight or achieved by one single measure."


Read my piece on Beijing's Olympic-sized traffic problem at China Dialogue.

More on traffic restrictions:
10 Ways Beijing (and Other Cities) Can Keep Its Skies Blue and Roads Gridlock-Free
Beijing's No Car Days
Beijing Bans 1 Million Cars
China Goes Car-Free For a Day
During Public Transit Week China Goes Carfree
Beijing's No-Car Days: How to Win Friends and Not Influence Traffic
More on transportation in China:
Beijing Subways Outpace US Subways
China's Public Enemy No. 1, Plus 20,000 Per Day
Beijing Auto Show: Huge Cars in Fashion

Post-Olympics Beijing To Traffic: "Welcome Back!"
Beijing will not extend its Olympics-time odd-even car restriction policy past its deadline of Sept. 20th, officials said this week, as the Paralympic Games drew to a close. Drivers will be "encouraged" instead to leave their car at home

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