On Saturday, I posted an article about the regulatory effectiveness of the traffic police in Beijing and mentioned the new auto regulations. I now have a few English-language articles to link to and they'll explain the regulations better than I have.
(T)he construction of 280,000 parking spaces; 1,000 bike sharing stations; 348 miles of new subway track; 125 miles of new downtown streets (I’d like to see where these are going, considering 720,000 square meters of downtown Beijing is the Forbidden City); 23 miles of tunnels; 9 new transportation hubs; 3 congestion zones; and, my favorite, “the use of modern technology.” The city will also cut the number of new licenses by a third to 240,000 for 2011. The most controversial elements of the plan are the measures to levy congestion charges during peak hours and restrict car usage.
Danwei published the front page of Tuesday's Beijing Times, which had the banner headline announcing that vehicles registered outside Beijing are banned during rush hour, with a fine of about $15. The Jing is full of migrants from all parts of China, so this hits a lot of residents pretty hard-- and with very little notice.
The New York Times furnishes these quotes which describe the extent of the problem:
“We have built many flyovers and expressways,” said Zhao Jie, a transportation expert at the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design. “We have spent quite a lot of money on subways and bus lines, and Beijing probably has the lowest bus fares in the world. But the stimuli to car ownership are even more powerful.”
Duan Haizhu, a 26-year-old taxi driver, put it more elegantly during a recent crosstown crawl in his orange-and-brown Hyundai. “The speed of building roads is nowhere near the speed of people buying cars,” he said. “And people won’t stop buying cars.”
Right. The subway is extensive and costs 30 cents a ride. The buses are half that price and half again if you use a smart card. Yet, people keep buying cars. Why?
Well, the subway is indeed packed at rush hours. And with few special lanes for buses, they've been stalled in all that private vehicle traffic. Those are reasonable excuses, sure. But much of the impulse for driving is status. The dignity of walking & cycling needs some attention.
Monday morning, I noticed much less traffic as I made my way to work. The roads were empty and I jumped to the conclusion that the new regulations were the reason. And then I learned that while we Americans had decided to take off work on Friday, December 31, the Chinese national holiday was Monday, the third. Doh! So, Tuesday was actually the first day of the new regulations and indeed there seemed to be a noticeable change-- somewhat less congestion in my area, anyway. Ditto the last couple days. This might signficantly improve the travel times for buses, I'm thinking.
And then again, lotsa Beijingers ordered new cars in late December and are in the process of taking delivery...