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How Beijing restricts private cars on roads to curb pollution

Breathe delhi Updated: Dec 29, 2015 16:43 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times

Pedestrians cross a road on a heavily polluted evening in Beijing.(AFP)

The Chinese capital enjoyed clear blue skies during the 2008 Olympics, helped by the implementation of the odd-even policy for two months ahead of the grand games, along with other measures, to cleanse the megacity’s toxic grey air.

When it was first implemented, the drive effectively removed around 50% of the private cars from the city’s roads in the runup to and during the event. And those affected by the ban were incentivised with tax exemptions for three months.

Since then, Beijing has only occasionally put into action the complete odd-even rule. It is restricted it to big events — such as the APEC meet in 2014 and the military parade in September — or when pollution touched dangerous levels. For instance, in January 2013 when Beijing and much of northern China choked under heavy smog, the government decided to implement the odd-even car number rule in its entirety on certain days.

The rule is put in place for three months. Security vehicles, emergency services, buses, taxis, and sanitation vehicles are exempted. Normally, it works like this: Five sets of numbers are picked out for the five working days of the week. Car registration plates ending with those digits are not allowed to ply on the roads during rush hour (7 am to 8 pm) on the respective day. If the last digit is an alphabet, it is considered as 0. The current regulation restricts 4,9 on Mondays; 5,0 on Tuesdays; 1,6 on Wednesdays; 2,7 on Thursdays; and 3,8 on Fridays. It was put in place on October 11 and will carry on till January 9. Then, a new combination will be announced through the media.

The hundreds of thousands of CCTVs on Beijing’s roads monitor vehicles. A violator has to pay a fine of 100 RMB (roughly Rs 1,000) the first two times. The licence is revoked for a year for the third violation.

However, the rule is not without criticism.

The earlier law gave local authorities complete power to restrict vehicles from plying, which was later deleted. In August, a clause was added that public opinion should be considered when local governments restrict or ban vehicles from plying in specific areas and times. This was because, according to official news agency Xinhua, lawmakers and members of the public argued that the restrictions are related to citizens’ rights to property and the law sparked huge public reaction.

Further in 2012, Beijing followed Shanghai to restrict car sales by introducing a lottery system to buy the registration certificate.

However, there is no clear evidence to show how much Beijing’s air has improved after the restriction on plying and sale of vehicles.

Usually when authorities implement the full odd-even rule for cars for a big event, they also shut down the industries around, stop construction activities and put in place other pollution-control methods.

Together, these measures do bring back the blue skies.