Driving mad! 4m cars clog Beijing roads (2)

14:15, December 21, 2009      

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Lofty changes

By 1994, the 2nd Ring Road was the border of downtown and "suburban" Beijing. In the next decade and a half, the city built the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th ring roads.

As of the end of the 2007, according to official statistics, the road total reached 4,460 ki-lometers in Beijing – about 2.5 times that seen in 1978.

And the city now plans to add 280 km to the express road network in the next five years, the Xinhua News Agency has reported.

However, Liu Tongliang, director of the Beijing Municipal Transportation Administration Bureau, said that merely expanding the distance of roads won't meet increasing traffic requirements.

"Giving priority to public transport is an inevitable choice for Beijing's development in the long term," Liu told the Beijing News on Friday.

More than 800 new bus lines in Beijing have been put into use in the two-year period from the beginning of 2008 until today. And that expansion has come after Beijingers were given a bus-fare cut from 1 yuan to 0.40 yuan in 2007 with a traffic card, while other major cities charged at least 1-2 yuan.

Besides the six existing subway lines, 13 new lines are under construction as of this year. By 2015, the city's subway lines will stretch 561 kilometers.

Worsening traffic snarls have prompted the local government to attempt other moves to ease the congestion, such as allowing only some vehicles on the roads, depending on the day of the week.

Ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games last year, with the number of vehicles at more than 3.5 million and smog a major problem, local authorities banned vehicles with even-and odd-numbered license plates on alternate days from July 20 to September 20. Officials said the effort resulted in as many as 2 million fewer cars on the road daily.

The current five-day traffic restrictions were introduced April 11 of this year, and authorities say the move keeps nearly 22 percent of cars off the roads each weekday.

However, experts say the effect is offset by the surging influx of new cars in the city, as more than 3 million vehicles are still allowed on the roads daily - the same level as in 2007 before the restrictions.

The paper quoted Deputy Mayor Huang Wei as saying that a policy to curb the growth of automobile numbers won't be made until "an appropriate time" in the future.

Huang also said Beijing won't charge a congestion tax in the foreseeable future.

Instead, city officials will focus on expanding the public transport system, such as bus and railway lines, to deal with the traffic problem, he said.

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