If you often drive in Beijing, you are not supposed to feel surprised if your car gets stuck in the street for more than 2 hours almost everyday. However, traffic in Beijing was not that terrible in the past. This problem showed up in 1990s and became serious after the city entered 21st century. There are many factors leading to this problem, including historical and economic reasons, etc. Bejing has been planning to alleviate the congestion for a long time. In 2011, a series of new policies were put into effect. But it looks like these policies are not very effective when looking at Beijing’s traffic today.
All of these orginated from the rapid growing ecomomy in China. During 1990s, the yearly growing rate of vehicles in Beinig had been kept between 10% to 15% . According to the research from other countries, it is common for normal families to have private cars when GDP per capita reaches $3000. Since GDP per capita in Beijing already reached $3000 in 2001，there is no surprise that the number of cars in Beijing has been continuing increasing at an explosive rate since the beginning of 21st century.
Compared to the rate of car increase, the speed of road construction is apparently slower. Besides, the road distribution, in many parts of Beijing, is not well designed. The blog is usually so big that a car has to go a very long distance before hitting a cross. Moreover, the public transport in Beijing is not well distributed. Some bus routes are largely overlapped, while some others, where there are great needs for public transport, have only a few buses go down. Hence, the undisirable public transport in Beijing has been pushing people to drive by themselves.
As the congestion became more and more serious, the government gradually realized they must do something different to solve this problem. I use “something different” instead of “something”, because there was one method that had been used all along by the government: Build more roads. Obviously, this method can not prevent the situation from becoming worse. After successfully got selected as the host of Olympic of 2008, to solve traffic congestion in Beijing was officially put on the government’s agenda. Several corresponding policies were made before the 2008 Olympics. In the end of 2010, the government made some new policies and revised the original ones at the same time. These new policies officially went into effect at the very beginnin of 2011. And they are what I am going to introduce to you on this blog..
What Policies and how they are supposed to work
These policies all fall into three categories. The government mouthpiece used three words to conclude them: Establishment, Management and Restriction.
Not only should more roads be built, but also more infrastructure, like schools, hospitals, super markets, would be constructed correspondingly in satellite towns of Beijing, which, the government believe, would share population and vehicle pressure with Beijing city. At the same time, buses and other public transport would be upgraded.
Parking fees in different areas of Beijing would be adjusted to reflect the traffic flow and parking management would be improved as well. Artificial Intelligence equipment would be largely used on public transport. And the performance of each level of government in traffic management would be incorporated into the official performance assessment. Congestion fees might also be charged if necessary.
There would be no increase in the quota for government-use vehicles and these vehicles would be more strictly managed. A monthly quota would be set up and people or organizations that were willing to have new cars should apply for a candidate number first. Under the strict supervision, these candidate numbers would be randomly chosen by computer monthly until the maximum of the quota is reached. Moreover, when there were big events or festivals going on, or the weather condition was severely bad, whether a car can hit the road or not would depend on the parity of the last number on its plate board. The government also called that non-native cars would not allowed to enter inside the 5th Ring Road during rush hours (7:00-9:00am and 17:00-20:00pm)
(The picture is sceenshoted from Google Map. The red circle is the 5th Ring Road in Beijing.)
As you can see, these policies are all correlated. Theoretically, this policy package would alleviate the traffic congestion. Since the policy package has just been implementated for 1 year, I cannot find any corresponding effectiveness analysis articles. However, according to my friends in Beijing, they told me the condition now seems a litter better, but just a litter. One possible reason they told me is that these policies are only effective to the not-rich people. Those who have big money don’t care to pay extra 10 RMB for parking. What is more, rich people can always get ways to have new cars as long as they want. Many families have more than one cars, so they can drive everyday despite of the parity of the plate number restriction. For the not-rich people, they usually live in the suburbs because they cannot afford the rent in the city center. Since the public transport is not attractive to them, they have to be the car commuters. These fees and restrictions may change nothing but just to make their situation worse. Another reason I can think of is that it may take a longer time to construct the satellite towns of Beijing. Most of the infrastructure cannot be built up just in one year time. Hence, if things go well, we should expect to see the congestion alleviated in 5 years, because, after all, the population pressure is the root of the traffic congestion in Beijing.
What Beijing did may take more time to show the effect. Perhaps the government needs to consider more about the social welfare distribution effect of such policy package.
 The Analysis of The Policy of Traffic Congestion Alleviation in Beijing. Available at http://wenku.baidu.com/view/ff78c07702768e9951e7387c.html
 Some Suggetions for Traffic Congestion Alleviation in Beiing. Available at http://www.gov.cn/gzdt/2010-12/24/content_1771947.htm