Seoul pushes forward ‘odd-even’ anti-pollution car rationing
Free public transport system scheme has drawn criticism from politicians for costing US$4.7 million a day
By Lee Kyung-min
The Seoul Metropolitan Government wants to make an odd-even vehicle use ban mandatory to counter worsening air pollution. Under the ban, vehicles with odd-number plates must not be driven on even-numbered dates and vice-versa.
The city implemented the ban three times last week as the capital was covered with Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5. But it failed to persuade many people to leave their cars at home _ fewer than 10 per cent of people did so. Vehicle emissions are one of the main sources of fine dust that produces PM 2.5.
In a rare Sunday press briefing, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said he would push harder to revise a law to make the odd-even vehicle ban mandatory when the PM 2.5 concentration average is over 50 micrometres for more than two days. Currently, the city can only issue non-binding recommendations with no penalty for people who fail to follow them.
“The access to clean air and clean water is a basic right,” Park said. “Concerns over PM 2.5 were particularly high among mothers with children. The city will seek all possible measures to allay such concerns.”
As well as a mandatory ban, the mayor wants to implement a system under which all vehicles will be given one of seven grades based on their eco-friendliness. Vehicles belonging to the top two grades will be exempt from paying toll fares during rush hours and fees for public parking lots. Owners of vehicles belonging to the bottom two grades will be gradually banned from driving them.
The city will also invest 2 trillion won (US$1.8 billion) over the next five years to build infrastructure for electric vehicles. In November, the city said it would push for 100,000 electric vehicles to run in the city by 2025. The money will be spent on installing chargers.
Park also defended his measure to make public transport free on days when there is high PM 2.5 concentrations, and reiterated that he would push these eco-friendly initiatives despite critics questioning their validity. “I am aware of the criticism about the public transport fare exemptions, but I believe it is significant that the measure increased awareness on environmental issues.” The free public transport during rush hours (between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.) drew criticism from the public and politicians. It costs 5 billion won (US$4.7 million) a day.
Seoul City Councillor Park Jin-hyung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said Thursday that the city should change the policy, which he said was being pursued unnecessarily. Some critics say the fare exemption is a populist move ahead of the June election during which Mayor Park will seek a third term.