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Car Curbs To Go After Games

Al Guo – Updated on Aug 14, 2008 – SCMP

Beijing traffic authorities have no plans to extend vehicle restrictions that have taken half of the city’s cars off the roads, but cheap bus and subway fares are likely to stay after the Olympics, a senior municipal official says.

The statement effectively ended, at least for now, a debate in the media and online chat rooms about whether the odd-even date traffic control scheme should continue after it expired on September 20, shortly after the end of the Paralympics. Under the scheme, private vehicles are allowed on the roads only on alternate days, determined by the last digit of their number plates.

Supporters of the policy argue that fewer cars on the road have cut vehicle exhaust emissions and contributed to better air quality in Beijing. Others say that continuing the measure beyond the Olympics period will infringe on the interests of vehicle owners.

Zhou Zhengyu , deputy head of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications, said the response to the temporary traffic control measure from motorists and the public had been positive, especially because of better air quality.

A survey by the Beijing Daily last month showed that more than 90 per cent of respondents supported the traffic restrictions because they would help improve air quality and reduce traffic jams for the Games period. But one key point raised in the survey, as well as many other surveys conducted this year, was that the measure was instituted for the Games, so people – in the interest of national pride – generally did not mind making minor sacrifices.

But extending the policy would undoubtedly anger many motorists, who thought the restriction would be a short-term measure.

“They’d better have a perfect explanation [to extend the policy on restrictions] because nobody told me my car could run only a couple of months a year when I bought it,” said Wei Minghui .

The capital has become clogged with traffic in recent years, as rapid income growth has allowed many people to afford cars. The city government has reduced fares on public transport to try to persuade people to use their vehicles less.

Many speculated the government’s low-fare policy was in place just for the Olympics, but Mr Zhou said the low fares would remain.

“We want to improve the percentage of people taking public transport to 45 [per cent] in the near future from 35 per cent now.”

Beijing’s air quality has improved steadily in the past few weeks since the odd-even restrictions went into effect on July 20. The Air Pollution Index stood at 60 yesterday, higher than the previous two days but in the “moderate” category.

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