Tough road ahead for car bans

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Tough road ahead for car bans

Each new car sold today will add to the delight and worry of many municipal governments in China. It boosts consumption to help cushion the local economy from the global financial crisis. Meanwhile, it puts an ounce of extra pressure on local traffic and environmental protection agencies.

For the Beijing municipal government, the pressing problem is not whether it needs to find a subtle balance between the surge of private car ownership and traffic control. The burning issue is how it will continue to maintain blue skies and smooth traffic, a part of the great legacy of the Olympic Games it hosted last year, as its half-year post-Olympic car ban is to expire in a month.

To improve the city’s air quality and traffic, Beijing has replaced the two-month alternating odd?even license plate system for the Beijing Olympic Games with a six-month trial of taking one-fifth of cars off the roads from Monday to Friday according to their license plate number.

Though the post-Olympic car ban is much less restrictive than the one adopted through the Games, it has invited much more criticism from millions of drivers for the inconvenience it has brought. It can drive people crazy trying to remember the last two numbers of license plates that are prohibited on a specific day as the numbers are changed from time to time.

The very complexity of the current car ban justifies a serious review of its practicality. But the problem of implementation does not deny the merit of government efforts to control traffic flow in downtown areas even as car sales become more appealing to policy makers who are going all out to fight the economic downturn.

Given the absence of great enthusiasm as the public demonstrated for the Olympic Games, the Beijing municipal authorities need to draw up a new traffic plan based on broad public support. This means whatever measure the city adopts to control traffic flow and cut emissions, policy makers should inform the public, especially those who are supposed to make more sacrifices than others, as early as possible to seek support and promote understanding.

Unfortunately, with just one month left for the current measure to expire, the Beijing municipal government has come up with an ambiguous statement that the next-step plan is still under discussion.

Drivers are eager to know if the current car ban will be lifted. Car buyers are also anxious about the limits on their driving. Such uncertainties will do no good.

If there are some particular concerns that restrain policy makers from taking decisive actions, they should open them to public debate. After informed public discussion, policy makers can then make the hard choices for the mostly agreed public interest.

China Daily, March 10
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