Netizens show mixed feelings as Beijing strives to rein in traffic jams

08:13, December 21, 2010      

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Netizens in Beijing voiced their support as well as concern during the past week about draft rules designed to curb the capital city's notorious traffic congestion.

The proposal, that car usage by institutions under the Beijing municipal government's jurisdiction be limited, was overwhelmingly supported, while an additional congestion fee to be paid by drivers and an odd-even license plate restriction system in downtown areas drew much opposition among netizens.

The Beijing municipal government wrapped up the week-long public comment period on Sunday that sought input before rolling out the final rules.

The draft rules proposed that no new cars should be added during the next five years to the already colossal car fleet for governmental and institutional usage.

"Equality should be strictly observed and no privilege be allowed for those government- or institution-owned cars to be used for personal business," said a netizen, Renwen Zhuyi, or literally "humanity idea".

"I hope that the government could make public the information about government- and institution-owned cars for scrutiny and supervision," said a netizen with ID Hub3333.

China has been pushing forward the reform on government- and institution-owned cars, but little progress was made, said Lu Ximing, director with the Shanghai Urban Traffic Planning Research Institute.

"What is more important is that the government will set an example in reducing traffic congestion by limiting usage of government fleet cars," Lu added.

The draft rules also proposed that parking fees be hiked in central Beijing and "congestion fees" be charged in areas prone to traffic jams. This has triggered widespread concern among netizens, who think that extra-charges should be the last resort in easing the city's traffic gridlock problem.

"Congestion fees are not an effective prescription to ease traffic jams,"said netizen Sunny. "Without a sound systematic arrangement, congestion fees might become a lucrative racket for traffic officials."

"Congestion fees are justified only if there is a highly efficient and comfortable mass transit system," said netizen "Singing Swallow".

An official with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Traffic (BMCT) said the congestion fee and hiking of parking fees would effectively restrain people from excessive use of cars.

Another official with the same institute further pointed out that a limit on the number of cars allowed in Beijing is needed in combating traffic problems.

"The Beijing municipal government has been focusing on limiting the usage, rather than buying of cars, since 2005," said Li Xiaosong, deputy director with the BMCT.

Beijing has made great progress in building more infrastructure developing mass transit systems, optimizing traffic networks, and other measures since 2004, said Li.

"However, these achievements were overshadowed by the unusual increase in cars in recent years that has brought tremendous pressure on traffic," he said.

Data from the BMCT shows there were only 78,000 cars in Beijing in 1978 and 200,000 in 1985. However, the number of cars soared after the country entered the 21st century amid fast economic growth and urbanization.

Within 13 years, the number of cars in Beijing more than quadrupled to 4.7 million in 2010 from 1 million in 1997.

In 2009, some 515,000 new cars were driven onto Beijing's already over-crowded roads, equivalent to the car population in Hong Kong. And this year, another 760,000 new cars will be added to the traffic gridlock.

Li attributed the traffic congestion in Beijing to the excessive use of cars, low ratio of roads and concentrated car use in downtown areas.

"We have to bring traffic under control before it is too late," Li said.

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