Beijing Continues Olympic's License Plate-Based Car Ban

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
beijing continues olympics license plate based car ban

In a country of a billion souls, where billionaires waft in their Quattroportes alongside whole families in Chang’an Altos, justice is not easy to come by. The absolute power of China’s central government is two-sided sword: capable of rapidly enacting transformative change, but also equally capable of drawing the instant ire of hundreds of millions. Thus, to deal with a boom in car ownership and its attendant congestion issues, Beijing has turned to the only fair method of government to force drivers from the road: a lottery. Yesterday, Beijing’s government announced that cars with license plates ending in 1 or 6 would be banned from the road for a day. And just like that a fifth of Beijing’s 3.5m (and counting) cars were off the road. Autocar reports that tomorrow numbers 2 and 7 are next.

Easily enforced, and admirably random, this new technique treats plutocrat and factory worker with the same indifference. Needless to say, this is a phenomenon not often found in the Middle Kingdom. It also calls to mind Jorge Louis Borges’ parable of the Lottery In Babylon, in which government by lottery disolves the state’s authority into an ineffable swirl of good and bad luck. “I am of a vertiginous country where the lottery is a principal part of reality: until this very day, I have thought as little of it as I have the conduct of the inscrutable gods or of my own heart,” wrote Borges. As history sweeps through China changing daily life at a breakneck speed, motorists will hardly notice the a weekly one-day ban on driving. With western cities trying to limit congestion in their urban cores, these vicissitudes of chance may yet visit us as well.

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  • Yankinwaoz Yankinwaoz on Oct 14, 2008

    Remember the 70's when you could only buy gas with odd/even plates? I remember lots of people swapping plates for a trip to the gas station. I suspect that car owners in Beijing will start to do the same.

  • Stingray Stingray on Oct 14, 2008

    That was done in this country many years ago... People that can afford to buy more cars, DO, or if you have a clunker that doesn't run with a "good" plate, it's a matter of swapping it and go. I'm not surprised they kept the ban in force after the Olympic games. I think they saw the games as the opportunity to do this.

  • Cavendel Cavendel on Oct 14, 2008
    yankinwaoz : Remember the 70’s when you could only buy gas with odd/even plates? I remember lots of people swapping plates for a trip to the gas station. I suspect that car owners in Beijing will start to do the same. Swapping or permenantly borrowing. This happened in Mexico city a few years back. People ended up buying a second car so that they could drive every day. It was done for air quality rather than congestion (both are quite bad in Mexico City). An unintended consequence was that many cars in Mexico City were now new cars with much better pollution controls, and they used un-leaded gas. In the end, air quality and traffic congestion still sucked, but the paint jobs were better.

  • Ronman Ronman on Oct 15, 2008

    Hi All, this happened in my country in the 70's, but people that could afford it bought another car with an Odd/Even number plate. i guess the lottery system would be more complex to go about, but who can control it, if people just swap plates every other day? what china ought to do is put heavy taxes on its fuel, and increase taxes dramaticaly on its own car manufacturers and others that fail to meet very high and strict emission standards. and if Chinaaaa can't do it, i dont think anyone can, cuase when they say jump the whole society jumps!!! the real Puppet Masters.