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Beijing Continues To Choke Despite Traffic Curbs

More stringent steps planned as Beijing continues to choke despite traffic curbs

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Jul 22, 2008

Beijing might further curb driving to clear the skies following the bold traffic restrictions that went into effect on Sunday but left the skies still hazy.

More cars will be taken off the city’s roads if the measures, which included a ban on construction works and closing down certain factories, do not clear the air in time for the Games just 17 days away, according to an official with the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

“We are still finalising the emergency plan tackling higher-than-standard pollution levels and extremely unfavourable weather conditions, which includes banning more cars in the city,” said Li Xin , deputy chief engineer of the bureau.

She did not give additional details of the plan but said it would go further than the current restriction that assigns driving days based on whether a car’s number plate ends with an odd or even number.

According to environmental expert Zhu Tong , who has been involved in drafting Beijing’s pollution controls for the Games, the plan calls for up to 90 per cent of the city’s 3.3 million cars to be taken off the road.

Authorities would continue to use number plates to determine which cars can drive that day, but tie the scheme into the day of the month. “For example, if pollution levels are too high on August 3, it means only drivers with licence plates that end in the number 3 would be exempted from the new plan,”

The plan would be unveiled soon and only be imposed “under extremely poor weather conditions”, according to Ms Li.

The air in recent weeks has been noticeably cleaner, although yesterday’s sky wasn’t as clear as on Sunday, which Ms Li put down to higher humidity and vehicle exhaust.

Pollution readings backed this up. Particulate matter, a key pollutant in the city, was 65 micrograms per cubic metre yesterday, comparing to 55 on Sunday.

Forecasts put the reading of the pollutant for today at 70 to 90 micrograms per cubic metre, which would be one of the heaviest polluted days in the past week.

But Ms Li was confident Beijing would meet its pollution-reduction pledges during the Olympics next month.

“We have seen more blue skies these days, which should be attributed to frequent thunderstorms partly and apparently the traffic restrictions imposed earlier,” she said. “We are fairly close to meeting our commitment for the Olympic air quality and I am confident we will be able to deliver a green Olympics.”

Latest statistics from Ms Li’s office showed Beijing had seen 19 blue sky days this month till yesterday, compared to 17 days during the same period last year. Blue sky days are a mainland measurement that indicates air quality has met the national standards for urban residential areas.

Du Shaozhong , a deputy chief of the city’s environmental bureau, said it would take about 20 days to see the impact of the traffic curbs.

But Professor Zhu said the public would only need a week to tell whether the stringent car bans and other bold measures have worked.

According to him, Hebei and Tianjin would impose driving curbs similar to the capital’s odd-even restrictions if Beijing is unable to clear its air itself.

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