December 30th, 2010
03:25 PM GMT
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."
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