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Curbs On Car Use Driving Motorists To Distraction

Al Guo – Updated on Jul 29, 2008 – SCMP

Plant nursery owner Yu Dongsheng, from Beijing’s Changping district, thought he was well prepared for the Olympic traffic restrictions.

He thought his selection of cars with odd and even number plates would ensure he had transport at any time. But talk in the past week of further traffic restrictions that could take 90 per cent of private vehicles off the road caught him by surprise.

An inspection of his vehicles’ number plates revealed that if a new restriction goes into effect whereby a car may be driven only if the last digit on its plate matches the last digit of the date (for example, 9 for today, the 29th), he is assured of driving a vehicle on only four out of 10 days.

“I don’t have a bus line within 5km of my nursery, so I have no idea how I can get anywhere if the reported measure is real,” Mr Yu said.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, confirmed on Sunday that “even more stringent measures” would be adopted “in case of extreme weather conditions”.

Observers interpreted the comment as heralding the last-digit-matching-the-date restriction.

Beijing has tried to improve air quality by sidelining up to 2 million of the city’s 3.3 million vehicles through a daily, odd-even number plate restriction on private motorists, as well as scaling down production at heavy polluting industries and banning construction or renovations at city centre sites.

But those measures have failed to improve Beijing’s skies, with the air pollution index showing air quality worsening in the past week.

Officials and environmental experts said that if adopted, the new measure would take 90 per cent of vehicles off the road and should immediately improve air quality. But they neglected to say how the thousands who rely on their cars would get to work.

“It’s a typical way the government handles things. Everything is considered except the people. They call the Games the ‘people’s Olympics’, but obviously we are not part of that `people’,” motorist Li Zhengyu said.

Officials admitted that traffic on major roads had increased since the ban went into effect on July 20 because many drivers were trying to compress two days of driving into one.

The constant flow of security and traffic measures rolled out as the August 8 opening ceremony nears has angered many, and at least one disgruntled resident has publicly challenged authorities on the internet.

One man posted his picture with a slogan “boycott the Olympic Games” on the popular website tianya.cn, and many, even under the gaze of website administrators, left their real names as a show of support.

A joke making the rounds in chat rooms at the weekend said people with single eyelids would be allowed out on the streets on odd-numbered days and those with double eyelids would be allowed out on even days to cut the number of people using public transport.

“It’s funny but just as ridiculous as those government measures have been,” accountant Dong Xingguo said.

Despite the overcrowding and delays, people living in urban areas would be able to take public transport if the extreme traffic restrictions are introduced, but for those living in the city’s outskirts, it will mean isolation.

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