Monday, April 8, 2013

Beijing Transportation Policy: Recent Updates

Beijing Transportation Policy: Some Recent Updates 
by Rebecca Hamilton

Developing countries often face similar problems as their transportation systems evolve.  Traffic congestion and pollution abound when nations with underdeveloped infrastructure and inadequate transportation plans are suddenly faced with an inundation of new drivers now wealthy enough to afford the convenience and status symbol of the personal vehicle.

In the Chinese capital city of Beijing, the government is struggling to address these new concerns on an epic scale.  Over 5 million cars are owned within the city with thousands more applying for car ownership permits every day.  The relatively underdeveloped public transportation network paired with extremely high numbers of cars have resulted in extreme congestion issues and contributed to deplorable air quality conditions.

Transportation demand management policies are being implemented to create a more sustainable transportation network and mitigate externalities.  Listed below are three (of many) national and local policies that have been adopted in the past several years:

1.) In February 2013, China announced that it would implement a carbon tax.  The proposed plan, although still being negotiated, would raise the cost of gasoline approximately $0.70/gallon.  This tax would disincentivize driving and may greatly benefit local air quality conditions by reducing the amount of fossil fuels consumed.

2)  “No Car Day” restrictions were implemented by the city as a temporary tactic to reduce traffic congestion during the 2008 Summer Olympics.  The measure was so successful that officials have extended the policy.  Under this policy, each car owner is restricted from driving their car one day of the week based on the last digit of their license plate.  This measure removes one-fifth of the cars from the road each workday.

3.) “The 2011 Package” is a series of traffic demand management policies designed to expand bus service, limit the number of cars on the road, and establish parking restrictions.

What do you think?  Is Beijing on the right track, or must they be more aggressive in their policies if they are to get their congestion and pollution issues under control?

Bajaj, Vikas. “Taxing Carbon.” The New York Times 20 February 2013:  8 April 2013

Xiohuo, Chui. “Beijing car ban to continue.” China Daily 15 March 2010: 8 April 2013

Minyin, An, Tanja Grabowski, and Daniel Bongardt.  “Traffic Demand Management in Beijing: Work in Progress.”  Beijing Transportation Research Center


  1. "The proposed plan, although still being negotiated, would raise the cost of gasoline approximately $0.70/gallon"

    This caught my eye. I did some back of the envelope math on the US House carbon tax discussion draft and came out with $0.15-0.30 per gallon. China's proposal is more than double that.

  2. In response to your question, "what do you think," I am personally more curious about what Beijing residents think. Have you found any sources that discuss public opinion around transportation, congestion, and/or air pollution? I found a couple news articles that encouraged carpooling, but were fairly vague in their descriptions. One source (1) mentioned unnamed residents who were concerned about safety when carpooling, while another (2) said residents preferred travelling in groups.

    Either way, carpooling certainly didn't live up to the expectations of planners in California in the 1970s, given what we discussed yesterday in class. I think more aggressive policies could improve air pollution and congestion problems in China. But, I think the US needs to look inward to change our approaches and policies as well. As you mentioned, the car is viewed as a status symbol, which stems from the Western world. I think a shift in car culture and values in both Beijing and the US is necessary, but the "how" is definitely complicated.



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