Beijing considers introducing traffic congestion charges

Capital will study introduction of a transport levy and a 'smart' system to collect toll revenue, its new five-year plan reveals

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2012, 5:11am


Beijing car owners may have to pay more in the future, as the city is among a growing number of mainland cities that are considering introducing congestion charges.

In a new five-year transport plan released this week, Beijing's transport commission said it would start studying congestion fees and would develop a "smart" transport management information system with the ability to collect congestion toll charges.

Other major cities - such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen - and smaller ones like Kunming , the capital of Yunnan province, have been considering rolling out congestion charges or have even included them in government plans.

Beijing's move, however, is likely to be more significant, given its national importance and its status as arguably the most congested mainland city.

The controversial policy of limiting the number of cars on the roads through a licence plate lottery was first adapted in Beijing before spreading to other cities.

According to Beijing's five-year transport plan, the congestion levy is included in the legislative schedule.

Although the plan lacks details (such as the size of the zones to be covered and the pricing policy), it represents the first time that Beijing's authorities have set a deadline for preparatory work.

Urban traffic researchers welcomed the consideration of a congestion charge but warned that the government would face many major challenges in introducing it.

Professor Zhao Jian , a Beijing Jiaotong University economist who specialises in public transport issues, said yesterday that compared with existing measures, congestion charges would be the fairest and most effective.

"To use economic tools rather than administrative orders to deal with traffic jams is an improvement," Zhao said. But he said he doubted the policy could be enacted any time soon because many thorny issues have to be resolved. One of the most politically sensitive issues is to define the zones where charges would apply.

Professor Gao Xiaolu , a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, said the level of public management and transparency was a major difference between Beijing and London, where congestion charges already apply.

"Without thorough preparation and good management, the privileged may end up not paying and the rest would feel cheated," Gao said.

Luo Xiaobai , who works in the central business district of Chaoyang but lives in a suburban Tongzhou neighbourhood, said the charge would be unfair.

"Our family used to live in the heart of the city," she said. "Ten years ago the government demolished our neighbourhood for a commercial real estate project and relocated us to Tongzhou. If they are charging me for returning to the city, I will not pay."

Beijing has been the most aggressive mainland city in seeking to limit traffic jams. For instance, its municipal government has limited the monthly supply of car licence plates to about 20,000 since 2010.

Beijing's transport blueprint also calls for more subway lines and better public transport on the capital's roads.

The capital will also build a fourth runway for its international airport and enhance its expressway and railway connections with surrounding cities.