Beijing to sweeten restrictions on drivers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am

A top Beijing city official promised yesterday to dole out reparations to motorists for losses inflicted by proposed massive traffic-control measures ahead of and during the Olympic Games.

The compensation offer is an unusual deviation from the routine all-stick-and-no-carrot approach that mainland urban authorities use in traffic control to ensure smooth running of government-sponsored festivities.

Ji Lin , the executive vice-mayor of the Olympic host city, told Xinhua on the sidelines of the National People's Congress meeting that his administration was working on a compensation scheme for the owners of Beijing's 3.3 million cars, which could be ordered off the streets for at least half of the three months leading up to and during the Games, which run from August 7 to 24.

'Automobiles - excluding taxis, buses and emergency vehicles - are to stay off roads every other day in accordance with the even and odd numbers on the licence plates,' said Mr Ji, who is also an NPC deputy.

Beijing's Games-related prescription is expected to dwarf previous efforts by mainland authorities, with its main aim being to clean up the capital's hazy skyline rather than just reduce congestion.

Air quality concerns remain a major talking point in the debate over whether Beijing, recognised as one of the world's most polluted cities, poses a health risk to the expected armies of visiting athletes, tourists and dignitaries.

Vehicle emissions are estimated to contribute up to half of the pollution in the capital.

Although the government has yet to unveil the details of the control measures for the Games period, the car restrictions are expected to take effect as early as June.

'I think the government is striding in the right direction [in terms of the compensation] because of the sheer number of people to be affected by such drastic restrictions,' traffic-management expert Wang Limei said.

Ms Wang, a municipal people's congress representative who has called for more transparency and fairness in the Olympic traffic-control scheme, expected the handouts to be in the form of rebates of car-ownership tax and exemptions for certain fees imposed on motorists by various government agencies.

She also predicted that Beijing's generosity could impact on public perception in some Games co-host cities where similar traffic restrictions, though on a smaller scale, would be adopted.

While Beijing will host the main Olympic events, six other cities, including Hong Kong, will accommodate some of the competitions. Among them, the governments of Qingdao and Tianjin have proposed car restrictions.

A four-day trial of Beijing's emergency traffic measures last August took 1.3 million cars off the streets each day and slashed daily pollution by 15 to 20 per cent, the municipal environment watchdog claimed.

A dent in the wallet

The fine for Beijing motorists who defied the vehicle ban last year was 100 yuan