China’s capital Beijing officially has 17m people. Unofficially, it’s guesstimated to be closer to 20m. By the beginning of next year, Beijing will be host to more than 4m automobiles, China Daily reports. Back in 1997, Beijing barely had 1m cars. Now, one in 4 Beijingers has a car.
Every day, more than 1000 cars are being registered in Beijing. After the October holidays, 10,000 needed to be registered and caused a giant traffic jam around the Beijing version of the DMV.
Come next year, Beijing’s car park (and during rush hour, that’s what it usually is) will have grown by 1 million in only two-and-a-half years. It took cities like Tokyo 12 years to grow a million cars. Katie Melua’s “Nine million bicycles in Beijing” is definitely a myth. Beijing’s motorists on the other hand will readily confirm that between 8 and 10 in the morning and 4 and 6 in the afternoon, all of Beijing’s cars take to the streets.
400,000 cars in total will be newly registered this year. By 2015, 5.5m cars will be on Beijing’s roads. But only if the projections of Liu Xiaoming, director of the Beijing municipal committee of communications are correct. He thinks, the numbers will drop to 300,000 new registrations in the coming years. He’s not saying how the growth might be capped. In Shanghai for instance, there is only a set number of new license plates available (between 5000 and 6000 a month) and they are auctioned off. A plate costs more than a small car: In January, the average price for a license plate was $4,388 per plate – and that was considered a recession-time bargain.
Beijing so far did not resort to such harsh measures. Jia Yuanhua, a transportation professor at Beijing Jiaotong University thinks the government should control the number of cars, but it won’t:
“The government would not restrict the purchase of cars because they need to support the growth of the industry and increase GDP during the financial crisis,” Jia Yuanhua said.
There is yet another reason: Most large Chinese car companies, and the Chinese side of most joint ventures, are state owned. The city of Beijing has its own car company, BAIC, joint venture partner of Daimler and Hyundai. You won’t shoot yourself in the foot by limiting your market, don’tcha? The Shanghai government owns a big chunk of a much larger car company, SAIC, joint venture partner of GM and Volkswagen, and that didn’t keep them from administering expensive birth control to their car community. Ah, the inscrutable East.
Be it as it may, Beijing’s residents think something might be afoot. Which prompts them to buy even more cars as long as they can. Ever since Beijing enacted a byzantine rule that the cars must stay at home on one day of the week, depending on the last digit of the license plate, second car ownership swelled.