Blog: Graeme RobertsAre vehicle use restrictions about to ratchet up in China?

Graeme Roberts | 17 January 2011

Shanghai is just one huge Chinese city and its roads are never deserted, even at night

Shanghai is just one huge Chinese city and its roads are never deserted, even at night

I reckon if I was on the up in one of China's numerous but lesser known provinces, I might about now be thinking about buying that long dreamed of new car before the local bureaucrats - perhaps inspired by recent moves in Beijing - stick up any more regulatory and/or fiscal roadblocks.

Hot after the Beijing city government's move to restrict the number of new cars allowed on to the burg's already crowded roads this year to 240,000 - a third of last year's tally - came news today of a proposal, and it is so far only a proposal, by a local official to restrict new vehicle purchases in Zhejiang, a province south of Shanghai (on the roads of which I experienced gridlock first hand last year), to businesses or individuals paying over CNY50,000 (US$7,600) of taxes annually.

Limiting motorists' freedom in the name of reducing congestion and/or pollution is an old bureaucrats' trick that began with the first parking meters followed closely by the first tickets for overstaying your nickel or sixpence's worth.

Today it's registration restrictions in Singapore and Beijing, the London Congestion Charge and so on. But, as certain UK city rulers outside London learned to their cost when they tried to copy then-London mayor Ken Livingstone's scheme, the public won't accept congestion charging and the like unless good, reasonably priced, flexible public transport is in place. Hence congestion charging proposals being roundly rejected in some of our cities.

But there's only so many roads and so many cars which will fit. And I breathed enough ozone-laced Shanghai air in a few days there last October to last a lifetime.

Something has to be done in China, and in other emerging economies, like India, beyond cleaning up vehicle exhausts and fuel, as is already happening. Restrictions on use may prove unpopular but essential in the end.

I fear the recent moves in Beijing and Zhejiang province may not be the last.


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