December 30th, 2010
03:25 PM GMT
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BEIJING, China - If you have been to Beijing recently, chances are you have had to sit in frustrating, mind-numbing traffic. The Chinese capital's traffic stats, based on official figures and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, say it all:

* Record traffic jams in one day: 143

* Average commuting time: 52 minutes

* Number of cars on the road in 2010: 4.7 million

The number of automobiles has doubled since 2005 and, as Beijingers become wealthier, so more people in the Chinese capital want their own set of wheels. The city's roads haven't been able to cope, so the government has decided to crack down hard on the congestion.

The new measures are, as auto analyst Jia Xinguang told me, the most comprehensive the city has ever seen. He added that the authorities don't really have much choice.

Part of the plan is to improve public transportation by adding new bus routes and subway trains. Parking fees, especially in highly congested areas, will go up.

But the most talked about measure is the decision to drastically cut back issuing new license plates in 2011 to 240,000 - only about a third of the figure for 2010.

Automakers are nervous about the new plan, especially since it is seen as a possible blueprint for other major cities in the country. Car dealer Su Zhe said the rules will likely hurt sales at several dealerships in Beijing.

There is debate about whether the measures will actually work. Jia said car ownership is still growing: roads will stay clogged, at least in the short term. An important element of the plan is to beef up public transportation, he said.

Many people though still want to realize their dream of owning a car.

Driving her new red VW - appropriately nicknamed “Miss Red” - PR executive Michelle Zhang told me that she rushed to her local dealership on hearing rumors about the tighter regulations. If she didn't get her car and new license plate now, she explained, she might have to wait for a while.

"I prefer driving in a car in the traffic even if I need to wait for one or more hours," she said. "The traffic, I enjoy it. I think driving is a fantasy."

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Manuel Vilhena

    Very interesting. Horrible traffic jams. Good article.

    December 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  2. Edward

    I was first in China in 1984. There were tons of bicycles and almost no cars. I went back recently and was shocked. Terrible traffic and with it, pollution to burn my eyes. What a shame.

    December 30, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  3. LV_nonanon

    China is a police state, yet we write about it like it was just another free place with regular people living in it. Odd.

    December 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm |

    Beijing needs to look at how other cities handle their transportation problems. For example, Seoul, Korea has 10-car subways that run every 90 seconds during rush hours. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Vienna, Zurich, Milan, Munich, Warsaw, Gotenborg, Dresden, Oslo, Helsinki, etc., have excellent tram systems that handle their transportation needs very well and most conveniently. Why is China afraid of tram systems? They are comfortable, non-polluting, fast, efficient, effective, and convenient! The subways currently in operation in Beijing, as well as those planned, are good. However, they need to be augmented with a comprehensive surface system of about 40 to 80 tram lines, with their own right-of-ways in the center of the streets. Seven-section trams are needed in Beijing, like those in Budapest and other cities. Trams are far cheaper than subways, and at street level, avoid the time and expense involved with extensive stairways and excalator systems. When will China start to think of the convenience and comfort of the people?
    China should send delegations to visit and review the transportation systems of the above mentioned cities, plus Moscow, New York, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, Paris, Toronto, etc. Trams should be built to augment subways, and polluting busses should be removed from the streets as quickly as possible!

    December 30, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
  5. Antony

    I don't think it's a good idea to build the tram system for its population and also safety issues. Look at those tram in Germany and see how many people take it. It's risky to take the tram in Beijing even if it gets approval and built up.

    December 30, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  6. Jupp in China

    Kadiddlehopper: Great advice, but you also need to consider the realities of Beijing as a rapidly growing city. The current Beijing Municipality is almost the same size as Wales and larger than the entire Northern Ireland. If you were a Beijinger, you wouldn't want to get around that large an area like Wales on a city tram...

    Also, the traffic situation in Beijing is much more complex than what the article described. Not only are there more than 4.7 million cars growing at record numbers each year, there are still many lanes for bikes, motorcycles, scooters, electric bikes, tricycles, and A LOT of pedestrians who don't give a damn about traffic rules (Jaywalking is the NORM, and crossing the street according to traffic lights is the EXCEPTION...sad I know). Imagine a chaotic traffic situation where you have a myriad of transportation instruments and all of them don't care about existing traffic rules, and viola you have a typical street in Beijing (or any large Chinese city for that matter). Now would you still want to add another "dedicated lane" for trams? That would really make Beijing's streets look like a messy ballet.

    December 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  7. Peter

    Good article – I've been to Beijing a few times over the last decade and can attest to the growing traffic problem.

    Restricting cars/charging for road usage is one logical step forward. More public transport is better again as it increases overall capacity and therefore brings economic benefits – but subways are expensive.

    The authorities have been looking at trams and other more ingenious systems – I read an interesting article about a train/tram system they are considering that would run above two lanes of regular traffic – making double use of the same space and working out to 1/10 the cost of a subway.

    Beijing will deal with this – more than can be said for the sorry state of public transport in many American cities.

    December 30, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  8. steve802

    Tram system will takes up road surface thus creating more problem for the already choked traffic condition. Elevated mass transit system is a better alternative.

    December 30, 2010 at 11:25 pm |

    cnn is saying that china is doing something wrong is real, but why the famous news around the world don't say nothing about the united united states try to control the last resourses around the world that is not own of amazon forest in brazil...i think that natural and evironment problems is reposibility of the own countries...and these countries are the only reposables for how they use their resources...they don't need other countries saying how to use it...for what?? because they want to be more rich...or they want to increase their economic situations....each country should be able to use their resourse how they want to use...thinking in the future is simply logical

    December 31, 2010 at 1:08 am |
  10. dsplay

    When I was in Bejing in 2007, I saw big problem in traffic jam.

    But this problem can be solved by some solution like above article.

    At this time, more serious thing than traffic jam is the violation of the drive rule. It may kill the unspecific person...

    December 31, 2010 at 2:07 am |
  11. Peter

    With the population that they have and with available land space, everyone can not own a car. It is just impossible. Many cars with just a driver is not sustainable. They have to get together for ride sharing or car pooling on a large scale.

    December 31, 2010 at 2:36 am |
  12. kevin

    It will become better, I believe it.

    December 31, 2010 at 2:39 am |
  13. wildsman

    USA is a police state, yet we write about it like it was just another free place with regular people living in it. Odd.

    December 31, 2010 at 5:41 am |
  14. katinahiltne

    "Clearance Auto Insurance" will give you a break if you buy two or more types of insurance. You may also get a reduction if you have more than one vehicle insured with the same company.

    December 31, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  15. Dozo

    Whatever their problem is, we do want them to buy more cars from us.

    December 31, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  16. Little boy

    People are now becoming more richer than ever and prosper economically , owing a car is absolute beyond a dream , yet we have to take serious consideration about the increasingly severe air pollutions in recent years , do you agree ??? everybody wants a comfort lifte but how about your next generation , you exhausted all the resources which actually should be belong to your offspring , what they should do ? wait for die ??? the only thing god will present to them as a gift is one thing " the death angel" ... you all will see it in the not-so-distant future ...........

    December 31, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  17. Manu Brasseur

    Thèse megacities wil undoubtedly show the way To rest of the World. Benoit Authorities Know This as Wellington as the London ones!

    January 1, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  18. Bob

    Funny to me because when the Chinese were riding bicycles I was driving a car which was expensive and hated because every time I had a close call that endangered my life or was stuck in traffic and smoking 3 packs a day from tailpipe exhast I HATED IT. I admired the Chinese for riding bicycles as an ecological solution. I now ride a bicycle and have designed my life around it and walking.

    January 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  19. Luckyray

    Lets build lots of bakeries that can make bread. SO excessive jam can be applied on bread slices and served as PBJ sandwiches. We can export PB and the chinese supply the Jam

    January 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  20. icons download

    Amusing state of affairs

    October 8, 2012 at 10:53 am |

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