Beijing residents brace for fee on congestion
Updated: 2016-06-06 10:57
By Li Fusheng(China Daily)
Severe traffic congestion at a highway toll station is a common sight in Beijing. Local authorities are working on solutions to ease traffic pressures in the city. [Fu Ding/For China Daily]
Wang Chen, a 34-years-old translator in Beijing, has been in poor spirits since the city authorities began taking steps to introduce an anticipated congestion fee.
Chinese reports said Beijing's policymakers will follow in the footsteps of London and Singapore in their efforts to ease traffic and cut down on air pollution, though details have not been announced.
Mao Baohua, a professor of traffic systems at Beijing Jiaotong University, estimated that the congestion fee could be 20 to 50 yuan ($3.50 to $7.60) a day considering the average income in Beijing.
That means that Wang, who won a license plate through the city's lottery late last year, will have to pay at least another 600 yuan per month to use her car on a daily basis.
"You see how unlucky I am. I have just stopped cramming myself into the buses and the subway to go to work," said Wang, whose commute between her home in suburban Tongzhou district and office in downtown Beijing cost two hours.
Authorities in Beijing have rolled out a slew of policies to address congestion, such as banning vehicles from roads on one out of five weekdays based on the last digit of their license plates. Still, traffic jams in the capital are nearly omnipresent.
"I just don't know why they are charging us. Shouldn't the government get blamed for traffic jams? It was they who came up with the road plans."
Wang is not alone in her complaints. According to an online survey on Baidu.com, 78 percent of respondents (4,610) do not support the move, with many saying the fee alone will not solve traffic jams.
Zhang Guohua, a senior transportation researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission, said limiting the use of private cars should be based on an efficient public transportation system.
Cui Dongshu, secretary-general of the China Passenger Car Association, sees the possible move as a symbol of progress.
"Charging a congestion fee is now the most practical solution to addressing the wrong practice of curbing car ownership but not car use in Beijing."
He said authorities should replace the notorious license plate lottery with fees on car usage.
"It will indeed alleviate congestion and meanwhile allow people who really need a car to own one."
There are about 5.6 million vehicles on Beijing's roads, with about 2.65 million people currently in the license lottery system. Fifteen people per 10,000 will win a license plate every two months.
Cui said if the lottery is rescinded, people will no longer buy new-energy cars.
"Currently, most people buy NEVs because they want the free use of a car instead of supporting an environmental goal."
Wu Hongyang, an official in charge of urban traffic studies at the Ministry of Transport, told the National Business Daily that other cities in China will follow suit if one city introduces a congestion fee, mcuh as they did after Beijing introduced measures to curb car purchases in 2010.
Seven other cities have passed restrictions on car ownership by the end of last year.
Qiu Baoxing, former head of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said at a meeting last July that it's just a matter of time before a congestion fee is introduced for large cities grappling with constant traffic jams.
Late last year a similar measure was proposed in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, but it was not adopted.
Several other cities, including Xi'an, have begun studying congestion fees, reported the National Business Daily.
While critics have said that car sales may suffer, John Zeng, managing director of LMC Automotive Shanghai, said even if congestion fees are introduced in large cities, as long as they are bearable, people will use their cars because of a lack of sound public transportation systems.
Wang, the Beijing-based translator, said she will drive between home and work. After all, driving will slash by half her time spent on commuting, and further cuts can be expected if the fee does alleviate traffic jams as the authorities claim.
"But if the fee does not work, can I get it back?" asked Wang, half jokingly.