Beijing’s stricter vehicle ownership controls fall short of a quick fix
Beijing has announced an effort to further constrict its vehicle quota control regulation in the hopes of curbing air pollution and traffic congestion in China’s capital city. Echoing the city’s recent “Clean Air Action Plan (2013-2017),” an amendment to the car ownership restriction regulation was issued on November 28 that will cut the annual vehicle increases from 240,000 to 150,000 beginning in 2014. With this policy in place, the total vehicle ownership in Beijing will be capped at six million by 2017. Beijing’s current vehicle fleet already numbers 5.4 million, ranking it first in motorization of any Chinese city.
While stricter vehicle ownership control is a positive step towards mitigating escalating private motorization in the city, the new measure only delays future air pollution and congestion that will arise from an ever growing vehicle fleet. In order to adequately counter this trend and truly restore clear skies to Beijing, additional measures are necessary to rein in car usage, even among current private vehicle owners. These measures include congestion charging, public transport improvements, and improving infrastructure for non-motorized transport.
Vehicle ownership restrictions aren’t enough to mitigate air pollution and traffic congestion
Vehicle ownership restriction is not new to Beijing, however, there’s a vital need to further restrict vehicle ownership and usage – and to effectively do so will require more than just decreasing annual quotas on car ownership. Beijing began capping vehicle ownership growth in 2011, after which the annual growth rate decreased from 20% in 2010 to the current 4%. Unfortunately, the city’s car ownership was already so large that the lottery scheme came too late to effectively battle its severe air pollution and traffic congestion.
EMBARQ China is working to move beyond traditional transport demand management (TDM) schemes and help cities like Chengdu map out a sustainable path to growth. EMBARQ China’s work focuses on adopting global best practices to improve infrastructure for public transport and non-motorized modes of transport, including walking and bicycling. This ultimately improves access for urban residents to alternative modes of transport and enables a shift away from private vehicle use. When this approach is combined with the government’s strategy of tightening vehicle ownership quotas, Beijing may have a chance of achieving its goal of cutting vehicle emissions by 25% by 2017.
Long-term solution for Beijing requires coordination and cooperation
As a short-term solution, the tightened vehicle quota system buys time for other medium or long-term alternatives to set in, including improvements to public transport, TDM policies, and urban planning interventions. But car ownership restriction is not without controversies, and far from a quick fix for the city’s mobility challenges. The lottery system raises significant questions over equity, citizen’s rights, and risks stifling car manufacturing – an important economy driver. Beijing’s local auto industry will face losses due to restricted car sales, and may not receive compensation from the government.
In the longer term, the new regulation needs to gradually evolve to include other market-oriented economic measures, such as parking management, congestion pricing, and low emission zones (LEZs) – which have already been successfully implemented throughout China, Latin America, and in other developing economies. More importantly, citizens must be guaranteed more efficient, comfortable, and eco-friendly transport alternatives through high-quality public transport systems and infrastructure for biking and walking. A combination of strategies proposed by EMBARQ China and the municipal government is the ideal path forward towards a more sustainable future for Beijing.