September is a busy month in the Chinese social calendar, September 2nd marks the first day of the school term – for the whole country – which means gridlock in just about every city as the usual rush hour is compounded by hundreds of thousands of parents that wish to take their kids to school on the first day before letting them ride the school bus on the second day. The first school day is technically September 1st where students have to turn up and receive books, the first real day falls on the 2nd and this year traffic was as bad as ever, even worse in Beijing.
The China Daily gives a good run down of what to expect:
Road congestion is expected reach serious levels on nine days this month, with the traffic congestion index expected to reach above 8.5. The index measures congestion on a scale of 0 (no congestion) to 10 (heavily congested).
The days surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day holiday, Sept 17, Sept 18, Sept 22 and Sept 29, are expected to hit above 9.0, the statement said.
Mid-Autumn Day, which falls on Sept 19 this year, has become a popular holiday for people to send gifts, so many cars from outside Beijing are expected to come to the capital.
Last year, on Sept 25, five days before the National Day holiday, the city witnessed a peak road congestion index of 9.8 during late afternoon.
According to the commission’s latest plan to deal with heavy traffic this month, government departments have been told not to hold large meetings or activities.
Beijing’s traffic issues are the stuff of legends with many a visitor to the capital coming back and telling their tales of woe. Shanghai residents visit the capital and return to Shanghai with a mark of respect for their own gridlocked roads which come with a sense of order and hope, unlike Beijing’s roads where everyone seems to have given up.
Beijing residents don’t seem to be doing much to alleviate the problem:
Zhang Mingming, 33, who works in the Financial Street area, said that a flexible working schedule would not resolve road congestion because in some areas, because traffic has been a long standing problem.
“Every day I drive my car to work and pass the West Railway Station area, I get caught for at least a half an hour,”Zhang said.
The number of cars on the road is increasing, and the current road system cannot cope with so many vehicles, she said.
Beijing is currently mulling the introduction of a London style congestion charge to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads according to the Global Times:
Officials in the Chinese capital on Monday said they are mulling over a new program that charges drivers extra congestion fees, which is among a package of measures to curb vehicle emissions.
While the Beijing Municipal Government hopes the program could reduce the number of cars on the road, opponents argue that imposing the charge could be too costly.
“This program is extremely complicated. The facilities and resources put into the program to monitor the entire city may prove to be less effective than expected and would probably aggravate congestion,” Niu Fengrui, director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
Shao Chunfu, professor of urban transportation research at Beijing Jiaotong University, agreed by saying that the core reason behind Beijing’s congestion and its air pollution is that the city has been given too many functions by simultaneously being the country’s political, cultural and academic centers.
“Its population also keeps growing, putting more pressure on the public system,” Shao added.
The city has vowed to cover downtown areas with a network of at least 480 kilometers of bus lanes and introduce a public bicycle rental system to ensure public transportation is used for 60 percent of trips made by residents.
The emissions curbing package, part of an action plan by the Beijing government highlighting its increasing efforts to clean its heavily polluted air, has pledged to reduce the density of PM2.5, the airborne particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter that can pose health risks, by at least 25 percent by 2017.
According to the package, from 2014 the government will also restrict the annual number of new cars hitting the road, and by 2017, the number of vehicles will be under 6 million.
Beijing currently has circa 5 million vehicles on its roads and has limited new car sales to just 240,000 vehicles per year via a lottery system that assigns 20,000 license plates each month. There is talk of letting EV buyers avoid the lottery system but a final decision has not yet been made. The GB Times is reporting that Beijing is planning to put a 1000 strong fleet of EV taxis on to Beijing’s roads by the end of this year, Beijing once declared that the city would become a paradise for EV’s partly thanks to its local manufacturer Beijing Auto planning to produce an electric variant of the Saab 93 and 95.
Beijing has been running a pilot project of EV taxis in the far flung suburb of Changping District which is basically saying New York State is the same as New York City, the fleet of 50 Foton EV-MPV’s was apparently well received and will now be boosted to a 1000 vehicles which will work all over the city.
The new taxis will be privately owned, but their introduction is encouraged, and sponsored, by the government. Each taxi can receive a subsidy of around 3,000 yuan per month from the government; a strong incentive for their use.
This is not the first governmental attempt to introduce more environmentally friendly forms of transport. Electric powered buses have been in use for some time, and more recently some running on compressed natural gas have also entered service. This was tried with taxis as well, with compressed natural gas taxis being introduced during the Olympics, but they have failed to enter wider service.
EV vehicles are obviously expensive when compared to a traditional taxi cab (the BYD E6 taxi is around 240,000RMB, a Hyundai Sonata is around 120-150,000RMB) but with a subsidy of 3000RMB per month operators are going to have a substantial incencentive to drop the gas and pick up the charging cable. The only downside is that Beijing’s traffic is so bad and with such distinctive seasons it seems the EV’s will be sitting with the AC on all summer and the heater on all winter. We hope that the downtown areas can have greater access to charging infrastructure close to taxi driver hangouts.