A challenge to all
HARD TO BREATHE: A parent holding his baby tries to keep steady on a crowded subway car in Beijing. Public transport rides are far from comfortable for most commuters in the city (LI WEN)
While congestion used to be only reported in big cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong Province, smaller cities, such as Chengdu in southwestern Sichuan Province, Xi'an in northwestern Shaanxi Province and Nanjing in eastern Jiangsu Province, are also starting to feel the pain of chronic traffic jams.
Beijing's car-plate lottery is said to be a mutation of a similar measure in Shanghai, which introduced auctions of car plates for private use to limit car registrations in 1994. At the latest monthly auction, taking place on January 15, a license plate cost an average of 38,711 yuan ($5,865).
Since the inception of this auction scheme, residents in Shanghai have been complaining about the huge costs of owning a car and even questioned the legitimacy of the scheme. To avoid paying such a surcharge, some residents chose to register their cars in Shanghai's neighboring provinces.
According to a report on Beijing-based Legal Weekly, although some government officials in Shanghai also admitted the car plate auction is not a fundamental solution to traffic jams in the largest business hub of China, they said it did curb the growth of car sales. At the end of September 2010, Shanghai registered a total of 1.67 million cars, less than 40 percent of the figure in Beijing, which has a smaller population.
Although Shanghai's first subway line went into service in 1995, much later than 1971 in Beijing, the city's rail network has developed much faster. Shanghai now has the world's second longest metro system with a total length of 424 km. Its subway lines have already joined with the rail network in neighboring Jiangsu Province. According to its new rail system construction plan unveiled in October 2010, Shanghai will have more than 600 km of subway lines in operation by 2015.
At a symposium marking the 25th founding anniversary of the Shanghai City Comprehensive Transportation Planning Institute on December 23, 2010, an expert from the institute told Legal Weekly he believed Shanghai would not copy Beijing's practice of pulling cars off streets according to their license plate numbers.
The expert suggests Shanghai continue to prioritize the development of public transportation, further improve the city's infrastructure, establish an Internet-based traffic information release system and accelerate the transfer of functions of inner city areas to new areas.
In an effort to alleviate congestion, Guangzhou, capital city of south China's Guangdong Province, was considering collecting higher road-use fees from motorists, said the city's traffic authorities.
Guangzhou had almost 2.15 million registered vehicles at the end of 2010, an increase of more than 300,000 from a year earlier. Every 1,000 local residents has more than 90 cars.
The number of private cars in Guangzhou has grown at an annual rate of 22.1 percent over the past five years. The figure is 20.9 percent in Beijing and 21.5 percent in Shanghai.
The Guangzhou Municipal Government has published 30 congestion-tackling measures for public debate between January 23 and March 5. The measures involve collecting congestion fees similar to those imposed in Singapore and London, raising parking fees and encouraging the use of the public transit system.
In the next five years, Guangzhou will begin construction of 11 new rail routes and put 3,000 additional buses into downtown services, in hopes of boosting the ratio of public transit users to 70 percent from 59.6 percent last year.
Encouragingly, Guangzhou won the 2011 Sustainable Transport Award granted by New York City-based Institute for Transportation & Development Policy on January 24, for its new bus rapid transit system that is praised for featuring great integration with bike lanes, bike sharing facilities and subways.