Restrictions unveiled to cut smog for Games
Peter Simpson and Woods Lee in Beijing
Long-awaited traffic plans to unravel Beijing's gridlocked roads and cut choking smog for the Olympics were revealed by transport and environment chiefs yesterday.
As predicted, the capital's 3.3 million car owners will be subjected to odd-even traffic restrictions for two months from July 20 to help ease congestion and reduce pollution during the Olympics and Paralympics.
'From July 20 to September 20, if the last number of your registration is odd, you can only drive on odd dates,' Zhou Zhengyu, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications, said.
Public servants will lead by example with 70 per cent of government cars among the affected vehicles.
Mr Zhou predicted that 45 per cent of the city's estimated 3.29 million cars would be off the road during the 62-day period, reducing emissions by 63 per cent, with the worst 300,000 polluting vehicles heavily targeted through a yellow tag scheme that starts on July 1, which bans them from daytime streets.
By way of compensation for the inconvenience, drivers will be exempted during the period from road and vehicle taxes, which will cost the city's coffers about 1.3 billion yuan (HK$1.47 billion).
People violating the ban by either ignoring it or seeking to use false number plates would be punished 'according to relevant national and local regulations' and would lose the compensation, he said.
Security, emergency services, buses, taxis, sanitation vehicles, Olympics officials' and diplomatic cars will be exempt.
Special Olympics lanes and public transport running with greater frequency are among other measures to be adopted for the August Games and the September 6-17 Paralympics.
'Smooth traffic and good air quality are important factors in hosting a successful Olympic Games and also in fulfilling Beijing's promises to the International Olympic Committee.'
During the events, about 4 million passengers a day are expected to squeeze on to the public transport network, which will be boosted by three new subway lines.
Pollution has long been the main bugbear worrying the country as the Games approach. Many international athletes and environmentalists have loudly voiced their concerns in recent months.
The ultimate loss of face would arise if the International Olympic Committee was forced to order a rescheduling of endurance events to prevent damage to athletes' health - a move it has repeatedly said it would not hesitate to take.
A test traffic ban was implemented in August. To most residents, the improvement in the air quality was not immediate. However, the authorities declared themselves satisfied.
Previously announced factory closures and operating-time reductions, plus the halting of construction projects come into effect on July 20.
As a thick level of pollution made worse by high humidity blanketed the city for a second day in a row yesterday - or slight pollution according to the government - Du Shaozhong , deputy chief of the city's environmental protection bureau, claimed that what was visible to the eye did not necessarily pose a threat to health.
'Perception is often different from the scientific monitoring statistics. We base our findings on data.'
Residents appeared prepared for the two-month-long inconvenience and said they understood the reasons for it, a recent study suggested.
A CTR Market Research telephone poll of 2,000 revealed 93 per cent understood why the traffic restrictions had been put into place and suggested most were willing to take public transport with only 16.7 per cent saying they would use private cars during the Games.
As many as 88 per cent thought hosting the Games would improve the environment of the city - a big vote of confidence and expectation of the legacies promised by hosting the 2008 Olympics.
A private car owner who has driven on Beijing roads for a decade said: 'I strongly propose continuing the new policy after the Olympics. Each of us will get used to days without cars, and it's just an issue of habit.'