Beijing will issue only 240,000 new car registrations next year in an attempt to tackle the city’s chronic traffic congestion, such as shown by the snapshot of Google’s traffic map (right) for Tuesday evening’s rush hour; traffic jams in dark red. The new number is less than a third of the 760,000 new cars registered this year, which has taken the number of cars on the capital’s roads to more than 4.7 million — up from less than 1 million 15 years ago.
Eighty-eight per cent of new 2011 plates are being reserved for private cars. They will be allocated by lottery. Beijing residents have been rushing to buy and register new vehicles before the new regulations come into effect at the end of this week, with 50,000 cars reportedly sold so far this month, almost six times December 2009’s sales. This panic buying has led to Huang Wei, the vice-mayor in charge of transport since 2008, being transferred to a new job in Xinjiang, according to the Financial Times.
The new regulations apply to first-time car buyers. Drivers replacing a vehicle are exempt, so the measure along with higher parking charges in the city centre from April, a restriction to one car registration per person and banning cars without Beijing licences from driving within the 5th Ring Road in rush hours, will likely do no more than slow the worsening of the traffic jams. As Liu Zhi, who leads the World Bank’s infrastructure team in Beijing, argues, city authorities are going to have to take far more drastic action to cut the demand for car use, which is the prerequisite for easing the overcrowding on the roads. That means turning talk of significantly heavier investment in public transport into reality.