Beijing – A city filled with historical tales and architecture, is also known for being one of the world’s most congested urban agglomerations. A supposedly forty minutes drive between the airport and downtown on a Sunday evening lasted in reality ninety minutes – one cannot imagine what rush hour traffic is like. Beijing city recorded a car population of 4.2 million at the start of 2013, a number expected to hit 5 million by the end of the year. Daily, this means an additional 2,214 vehicles on the capital’s roads. That certainly raises an alarm!
Striking the same chord with the government, easing traffic congestion tops Beijing’s work agenda. According to a news report, one of the goals of the local Transport Commission is to ensure the traffic congestion index within 5th Ring Road, Beijing’s main urban area, does not rise beyond level 5. The index measures the severity of congestion on the road and ranges from 0 (no congestion) to 10 (heavily congested). To do so, firm measures have been introduced to curb the traffic increase: an odd-even license plate system where driving your car within the 5th Ring Road is prohibited on certain days if the tail number of your license plate ends with a certain number, and a license quota system that requires those who want to purchase a car to register by the first eight days of every month (only 17,600 quotas are issued monthly).
Another strategy to alleviate the number of cars on roads is an affordable public transport system. Besides the existing bus and metro services, the municipal government is also launching a customised bus service at the end of August 2013. The new offering seeks to replace an estimated number of 30 private cars on a single bus. The service aims to connect dense residential areas such the CBD and the Financial Street.
Individuals have taken it up to themselves to make the government and population act on the traffic. Wang Yong started to give strangers free rides thirteen years ago and has helped over ten thousand people – he has become Beijing’s campaigner of carpooling. His main objective is to convince the government to run carpooling campaigns across the city, and in June 2013, he helped launch a new campaign on the outskirts of Beijing where nearly 2,000 people joined.
The severity of the situation is growing on a daily basis – a recent headline in June read ‘Beijing Zombie Apocalypse Traffic Jam: Commuters leave behind vehicles in rush hour traffic’. Having government intervention is insufficient; the battle to ease congestion in Beijing is a long one which requires the concerted effort of every citizen in Beijing.