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Traffic congestion, parking fees and government cars

Beijing on April 1 jacked up parking fees in downtown areas as the latest effort in dealing with overcrowded streets and traffic gridlocks in the capital city.

In the city’s major business and shopping areas within the 3rd Ring Road, the parking fee is up 50 percent from ¥10 ($1.5) to ¥15 an hour after the first hour for side-road parking from 7 am to 9 pm.

Parking fee in areas between the 3rd and 5th Ring Road has been raised to ¥6 for the first hour and after that ¥9 an hour.

Raising parking fees is part of Beijing’s Temporary Provisions to Control the Number of Passenger Vehicles issued last December in an effort to combat serious traffic congestion in the city. The parking fee hike follows the city’s drastic measure to limit the number of new vehicle registrations this year to no more than 240,000 units, about one-fourth of the total in 2010.

The abrupt restriction on vehicle registrations seems to have little effect in alleviating traffic gridlocks as there are already 5 million automobiles on the roads in the city, not including military vehicles. With only 1.4 million parking spaces available, this means everyday about 3.6 vehicles are competing for a parking place.

No doubt the increase in parking fees will force quite a number of drivers to find alternative means of transportation in their daily commuting, helping reduce the total number of vehicles on the roads. And this week’s rise in fuel prices will also serve as yet another deterrent for drivers to take their vehicles out during the week days.

While traffic management remains one of the biggest issues for Beijing and other big metropolises, China has been infected with the “big city disease,” so to speak, due to the robust economic growth and the explosive increase in the number of personal cars over the past five years. But for the capital city, at least, government and institutional vehicles are probably one major factor causing traffic congestion and gridlocks.

On April 1 the Beijing municipal government publicized that the city has 62,026 “government vehicles.” This number does not include government-funded municipal institutions, schools, hospitals and city-owned companies. Neither does it include as many, if not more, vehicles owned by central government ministries, administrations, commissions, organizations, institutions and State-owned companies. As estimated by CCTV late last year, the total number of government/institutional vehicles are somewhere around 700,000 units, or about 1/7 of the city total.

The best way to effectively alleviate the capital city’s traffic congestion, it seems, is to get rid of government vehicles. But that is not likely to happen any time soon.

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