Shanghai: City to Hike Car Expenses to Solve Congestion Woes

Beijing, July 22 -- Many city residents complain about the rocketing auction prices for a local private car plate but they now have more reasons to feel pressured. The city government said it's determined to further push up daily traffic costs for private cars and take tougher new policies to curb car use in upcoming years.

The government transportation watchdogs said yesterday they are now mulling a package of much tougher policies to help control growth of private cars and make it more costly to drive them in downtown areas.

It's estimated that even under the current curbs in the form of monthly car plate auctions, the number of cars with locally registered plates should continue to swell and reach 2 million by 2015, up from the 1.29 million by end of this June. Traffic demand on downtown roads will increase subsequently by more than 20 percent. And by end of this year, private cars with local plates are predicted to jump to about 1.4 million, rising by 18 percent from a year earlier, government officials said yesterday.

The government will now focus on controlling the growth of private cars and curbing their usage downtown as "a crucial solution" to help relieve growing congestion, according to Shen Xiaosu, director with Shanghai Construction Commission, which is the city's top transportation watchdog and planner.

Engineers and researchers have started working on policies based on experiences cities overseas that share the same headaches. Cities such as London, Tokyo, Paris and Rome have raised the costs of driving into downtown districts and parking vehicles by charging motorists various kinds of high taxes or additional fees.

"Paris adopted flexible policies in connection with daily air quality: Only half of the vehicles are allowed on the street on days when air quality is heavily polluted. And violators face hefty fines," said Xue Meigen, director with the local transport planning institute, which is a traffic planning advisor to the city government.

The transportation watchdog said they would borrow some of the overseas practices and develop them into a package of policies that are suitable locally for upcoming years. This might come as depressing news to those who want their own cars in Shanghai, as the price of a local car plate reached 58,200 yuan (US$9,126) averagely last month. The plate entitles the car to use the elevated road system without limits.

The growth in automobiles in Shanghai over the past decade has more than tripled the increase in local road capacity. By building new roads and improving traffic management, the capacity of local roads has improved by 110 percent in the last 10 years but local autos rose by 364 percent in the meantime, according to Xue. "There is limited room for building new roads since the city has a tight supply of available land resources. There should be more effective policies in controlling car use to ease road congestion," Xue said.

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