Car owners in Beijing have multiplied since 1992, creating a congested, choking city and a class struggle between the haves and have-nots. Since January 1, however, party boss Jia Qingling has been taking no prisoners with his new measures, provoking no end of anger among the haves and some grim satisfaction for the have-nots. The capital has been outlawing various small cars and vans from main roads and especially targeting the small, yellow taxis which once ruled the streets. Senior officials recently helped cast dozens of these vehicles into a furnace at the Capital Iron and Steel Works (Shougang), a huge source of air pollution. Shougang has vowed to forsake all previous plans to boost output, although, given the state of the steel market, this is no longer the sacrifice it once was. Drivers are up in arms at stringent annual examinations which start this year, part of efforts to clean up car emissions. Beijing already has compulsory lead-free petrol and emission standards are being raised. Police have taken to patrolling the streets, stopping and checking cars. Those not up to scratch have their number plates removed and only returned once the vehicle is certified clean. Beijing has also ruled that passenger cars must not be driven for longer than 10 years - extensions are possible but only on condition that cars go through three tests a year. Vehicles used as taxis can be driven for a maximum of six years and must not clock up more than 600,000km. Beijing authorities have infuriated neighbouring towns by also setting up special testing stations on main roads into the city. Cars from outside which fail the tests are being turned away, forcing Beijing to announce plans to build a new ring road around the city for these polluting vehicles. The capital has already claimed some success in easing traffic congestion by strictly limiting the access of big trucks during the night. This especially affects the dumper trucks operating on the many construction sites and those transporting goods from the diplomatic quarter destined for Russia. Yet it means that at night the third ring road which bares the brunt of the traffic is a nightmarish procession of huge, thundering vehicles churning up the capital's ever present dust. Police have also become ruthless in towing vehicles parked illegally, an important move because much of the city is threaded with small alleyways which are blocked by careless parking. Almost nothing in the city has been built with cars in mind so in residential areas there is nowhere for owners to keep their vehicles. Cyclists are not pleased because the one concession made to their interests, the wide bicycle lanes along the two main ring roads, have been opened to car traffic and parking. Once a pleasure in Beijing, cycling has become a hazardous affair. The city's car population has been rising by 15 per cent a year - but not for much longer as stringent steps are being taken to discourage people from buying cars. A new parking permit is being introduced which can cost anything from 2,000 yuan (HK$1,870) to 5,000 yuan, and unless you have a permit you can't buy a car. The road tax is being abolished and replaced with a fuel tax making driving more costly, and the airport express toll, as well as those on the motorway to Tianjin, has risen substantially. Beijing has been unique in ordaining that from January 1 all new cars must come equipped with automatic fuel injection and high quality catalytic converters. When this was announced last year, no domestic maker produced a vehicle that fitted the bill. Since then, some vehicles such as the Santana 2000, the Jetta and the Citroen Fukang have been adjusted to comply, but officials have warned that unless air quality improves tougher measures will swiftly be announced. At the Beifang car market, Beijing's largest, deputy manager Li Manli said daily sales plunged from an average of 100 a day to 10 a day in January. Last year, one could buy a new car for as little as 40,000 yuan but now the cheapest is about 119,000 yuan. Many dealers had gone out of business, Mr Li said. Even if people in the capital do find a suitable car, jumping the bureaucratic hurdles has become more difficult. Registration now requires travelling from office to office to obtain chops on seven different documents. Some people have tried to find a way out by buying a car from diplomats or importing one directly but this, too, has been made difficult. First, there are all the inspections, then Customs officials assess the value of the vehicle before levying duties of at least 110 per cent. After that the local tax office demands a purchase tax. It is no wonder pedestrians and cyclists now feel that the wind is at last shifting in their favour.