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Beijing’s race against rush hour

world Updated: Apr 16, 2010 00:17 IST
Reshma Patil

This week, while the world discussed China’s currency policy and an impressive 11.9 per cent first quarter economic growth, Beijingers were busy worrying about how to reach work on time.

The capital of the world’s biggest car market continues to be a laboratory for transport management, with results worth studying for any mega-city grappling with an infrastructure crisis.

Starting Monday, Beijing effected yet another sweeping policy change to manage its 4.2 million cars —- almost twice as many as New Delhi’s.

About 8.10 lakh government employees in Beijing were told to reach work 30 minutes later, from 9 am to 6 pm instead of 8.30 am to 5.30 pm, to ease the rush hour.

Parking fees on major roads in 13 zones were controversially doubled earlier this month. A rule that restricts one-fifth of the capital’s cars every weekday based on the last digit of the license plates, was extended till April 2012.

Both Beijing and New Delhi have a growing population of 17-20 million people and 1,000 new cars hit the roads of both capitals every day. But Beijing’s planners are struggling to keep the city on the move despite building a subway network that will be the world’s biggest by 2015.

Shi Qixin, a Tsinghua University transport expert, told the Global Times that ‘the key to solving Beijing’s traffic problem is to improve bus or subway connections to encourage car users to leave their cars at home.’

But urban Chinese incomes are increasing with the economic growth and residents are losing the patience to ride subway trains as crowded as Mumbai’s local trains.

Liu Yunlong, a manager with a Chinese firm, told Hindustan Times the new working hours made no difference to his twenty-minute drive to work.

He said he would continue driving instead of using the subway, despite the rising costs of parking and petrol and restrictions on car usage.

Beijing is the latest city after Chengdu, Chongqing, Nanchang and Shenzhen to stagger working hours just to ease traffic.

The Chinese media widely quoted dismayed Beijing commuters complaining that the new rush hour made the traffic worse.

Parents said the 6 pm office-closing hour delayed picking up children from school.

But officials said the new working hours did increase average traffic speed during rush hour — by one per cent.