Beijing authorities will not put a limit on the number of private cars navigating the streets of the capital, despite increasing traffic congestion, a transport official said.
Speaking at a forum on urban transport attended by officials from Beijing and Hong Kong on Monday, Liu Xiaoming, deputy head of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications, said the city government would not limit private car ownership. Currently, such vehicles make up about 80 percent of cars on Beijing roads.
"Instead, we will encourage citizens to use their cars more rationally and sparingly," he said.
Liu said a major step would be to make the public transport network faster and cheaper so that "some car owners will willingly give up driving".
Beijing has been studying Hong Kong's example of building bigger car parks near major subway stations.
The latest figures from the Beijing committee show that 34.5 percent of city commuters choose public transport, just ahead of the 32 percent of people who travel in private vehicles.
The increase comes in the wake of the city government's decision to spend 1 billion yuan (about 134 million U.S. dollars) a year to slash public transport fares. In early October subway fares were cut by 30 percent.
Beijing's public transport system carries about 15 million commuters daily. The number is expected to rise to 28 million by 2012. By then, the city aims to increase the proportion of public transport commuters to 50 percent.
Beijing, with a population of 17 million, had 3.08 million registered motor vehicles as of August, an average of one for every two families. The municipal communications committee predicted the figure would continue to soar in years to come.
With traffic jams a daily occurrence, the municipal authority admitted urban road transport in Beijing had reached "crisis point." About 90 percent of the city's roads are currently operating at full capacity with little room for expansion.
Despite the gridlock, Beijing has said on several occasions in the past that it won't follow Shanghai's lead in limiting private cars.
In Shanghai, license plates are issued on a quota basis and are auctioned for an average of 40,000 yuan (5,300 U.S. dollars), almost half the price of a Volkswagen Jetta sedan.