By on December 14, 2010

For the past two weeks, China’s capital had been awash in rumors that it would use stern methods to stamp out rampant car growth. Most popular rumor: A one car policy. Only one per resident. There are 4.7 million cars in Beijing and 22 million people. That disparity did not allay the worries of motorized Beijingers. They want their two cars just like they want their two kids. A run on the showrooms ensued, dealers ran out of cars.

In numbers: The city of  Beijing usually registers 1000 cars a day. Lately, that number had risen to 2000 a day. The rumors caused panic buying. During the week from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5, “Beijing had 21,000 new cars on the roads, translating to 3,000 more cars per day,” reports People’s Daily. To curb car growth caused by car growth curbing rumors, the city had to do something fast. And they did.

Today, readers of People’s Daily’s sister paper Global Times were greeted by the headline “Beijing declares war on cars.” On closer inspection, it is a war of words. Or not even a war. More like a finger wagging.

On Monday, the city posted a plan on its website to solicit public opinion on what to do with all those cars. This may sound odd to those who think of China as an authoritarian police state, but it is actually quite common here. Plans are open for discussion, and depending on where the discussion leads, plans are changed or shelved totally. There is no voting. But the government keeps a constant finger on the pulse of public opinion, unlike others that only read polls before voting time.

The new plan is a mix of everything. From expanding public transportation to higher parking fees, from new underground tunnels to a call to work from home. Conspicuously amiss: The much expected curb on car purchases.

Even the Wall Street Journal had expected (hoped for?) harsher measures. The WSJ complains that “Monday’s document left vague many details,” and that no-one at the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport would return their calls.

Actually, the most radical part of the plan is a proposed limitation on the purchase of new government cars for the next five years. The capital has around 700,000 government vehicles, nearly 15 percent of the city’s car ownership. Auto analyst Jia Xinguang tells China Daily that “Government cars are far more frequently used than private cars, often for personal use.” Really? Controlling the number of government cars is welcome but it is more effective to limit their use, Jia suggests.

What is the authoritarian state coming to? The people get higher parking fees, but the officials get no new cars? Expect that one not to survive the discussion stage.

Beijingers hate traffic jams. Beijingers love their cars. And the city knows that.

With all the discussion on curbing car growth in China, there is one item that many forget. Cars are considered a strategic industry in China. Nearly all major car companies are state owned. There is rarely a province that does not have  (or want) its very own car producer. Beijing owns BAIC, Shanghai owns SAIC, FAW and Dongfeng are owned by the central government.  Despite all the green talk, the Chinese government is just as concerned with higher car sales as other car company owning governments.

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7 Comments on “Beijing Declares War On Cars: A War Of Words...”

  • avatar

    «But the government keeps a constant finger on public opinion, unlike others that only read polls before voting time»
    It’s funny b/c it’s true. But is also sad that you can actually compare the Communist lifer politicos with ours and actually ring true.

  • avatar

    That is the perfect city to introduce ATS or Reflex cameras. If I’m calling the shot, I’ll be moving HQ over there to sweeten the deal.

  • avatar

    I hope the Chinese are too smart to seek advice from our own social-engineering, eco-loon urban planners… we would tell them the answer is bicycles, pedestrians, and urban density, and that the best way to achieve the latter is to tax people according to the distance they live from work.

    Some elements China can add to their mix of solutions might include:

    – a no-child policy for major urban centers (guaranteed to produce an immediate, major rush of marriage and sex).

    – relocating folk out to China’s empty cities. Move the government bureaucracies they work at, and the people will follow.

    – re-design offices so workers can sleep over. Japan’s hotel industry ought to be able to help come up suitable floor layouts. The bed/desks already exist. Here’s one: launch a work-from-home revolution in the government. Because this is China, the government can position the program as, “You WILL work from home – and for less pay.”

    – artificially raise the price of cars. Fewer units will be sold, but profits per unit will rise. Any central planning toffs worth their perks ought to be able to steer this to a financial wash for the state-owned car companies.

    – accelelerate China’s inevitable economic collapse by building even more infrastructure. When this project caves in due to gross misallocation of resources, people won’t have the money to buy cars, and there won’t be nearly as many jobs to commute to.

    – get some lebensraum by starving what’s left of the NoKo’s to death, or taking over Siberia.

    Just kidding.

  • avatar

    I see — the real cause of congestion is the people driving two, three, maybe 4 cars at a time? The only way that would make any kind of sense would be if it were one car per family.

  • avatar

    What is the local commuter-train/subway situation like Beijing?  Here in Dallas, one of the most sprawling cities you can imagine, we are being forced to put in a commuter train system that almost no one rides because it goes almost nowhere.

    Surely under a Communist dictatorship, the answer is that (just as is said here in Dallas): people don’t need cars and they should take the train instead.

     Since they are in the position to build either (no fights about eminent domain vs. property rights in China!) why have they even permitted car ownership when everyone knows that trains are better for the planet and better for society and, well, just plain better!

  • avatar

    Simple, eliminate free public parking and let the market set the prices.  It works wonders in Tokyo.  American cities are learning that ‘free’ parking is not free.  They can slowly start ramping up taxes on car ownership as well.  This type of expense can be limited to Beijing, so it’s not like it will curb the countries appetite for vehicles, but it will at least put the burden of the cost of vehicles more directly on the people owning them.

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