Motor vehicle exhaust becomes first cause of air pollution in Beijing

Four million! Beijing is on the threshold of having four million motor vehicles!

On December 18, the number of motor vehicles in Beijing exceeded four million to reach 4,001,426, and the number of drivers has reached 5.679 million.

Beijing's roads become large-scale parking lots during rush hour

A straight line going upwards: the number of motor vehicles jumped from three million to four million in just two years and seven months, and the number will likely reach about seven million in the future.

What does four million mean?

Beijing's Second Ring Road covers a full length of 32.7 kilometers, and has six two-way lanes. If a car is 4.5 meters long, then the Second Ring Road can hold only about 43,600 cars. By the same token, the Third Ring Road could hold about 64,000 cars, and the Fourth Ring Road about 116,100 cars. If the three Ring roads are fully packed, they could hold only about 223,900 cars, just 5.6 percent of the four million cars. That is to say, if six in every 100 cars are on the three Ring roads simultaneously, the roads will be paralyzed.

The pace at which the number of motor vehicles is growing is even more astonishing. It took 48 years for the number of motor vehicles in Beijing to grow from 2,300 to one million. The number of motor vehicles exceeded two million and three million in August 2003 and May 2007, which took six and a half years and three years and nine months respectively. The number of motor vehicles, however, grew from three million to four million in just two years and seven months.

"Four million motor vehicles serve as a signal of the capital's booming development as well as one of the manifestations of people's enriched lives." Industry experts believe that it is an inevitable trend that more people will own a car. Liu Xiaoming, director of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Transport, believes that with the population growing in Beijing, the fast-growing number of motor vehicles in the city is a trend that will continue in the short term. According to calculations, the number of motor vehicles is expected to reach five million in 2011, and exceed six million by 2015. If there are over six million families currently in Beijing, the number of motor vehicles will likely be about seven million in the future.

A happy concern: vehicle exhaust has become a main factor affecting Beijing's air quality.

The fact that the number of cars in Beijing has exceeded four million has brought about new economic opportunities for prosperity in the capital and has also significantly improved the living standards of Beijing's residents. However, it has also led to practical problems, such as an increase in urban traffic congestion and increased environmental pollution.

Although the development of Beijing's public transportation system has accelerated in recent years and increasingly more people choose the public transport system to travel, the rate of people travelling in private cars has always stayed over 30 percent. Private cars have transformed from a weak means of transport into a form of transport that occupies the highest status.

The rapid increase in the number of cars has led to traffic congestion. According to traffic statistics between November 14 and November 20 from the Beijing Transport Research Center, despite the fact that Beijing has adopted a measure of "banning vehicles from the road one day each week according to the last digit of their license plates," the average speeds of cars during the morning and evening rush hours in Beijing are only 24.2 km/h and 20.1 km/h, respectively. Currently, the number of cars in Beijing increases by over 1,300 every day. If measures are not taken, the average car speed during rush hour in Beijing may be only 15 km/h by 2015.

The decrease in average car speed due to traffic congestion has led to an increase in the total vehicle exhaust emissions. According to monitoring data, vehicle exhaust has become one of the main factors affecting Beijing's air quality. It produces 50 percent of the airborne pollutants.

Continuing efforts: Easing traffic congestion in phases and reducing the congestion pressure caused by an annual increase of over 300,000 vehicles.

The longer roads are built, the faster the number of cars increases. Some people describe this situation, "A road roller fails to keep up with the pace of a Cherokee."

Solving Beijing's traffic congestion issue can neither be done with one action, nor can it be delayed. Beijing started implementing a multi-phase plan to ease traffic congestion in 2004.

Beijing has invested a total of about 200 billion yuan in traffic infrastructure over the past seven years. An additional 174 kilometers of rail transit will be put into operation by the end of 2009, increasing the total length of rail service to 228 kilometers; an additional 549 kilometers of expressways will be put into service, increasing the total length of expressways to 884 kilometers; the total length of urban and ordinary roads will reach 7,188 kilometers and 20,340 kilometers, respectively. The urban "arteries" have continued to expand and the "microcirculation" has also become increasingly smooth. Since the start of 2004, 1,372 measures in eight key areas, such as breaking through dead end roads, improving level crossings and establishing street-crossing facilities, have been taken, which has significantly enhanced the carrying capacities of traffic facilities and the traffic capacities of major intersections.

Under the fiscal support of the municipal government, Beijing has carried out various types of measures to prioritize public traffic. A subway ticket is priced at the flat rate of two yuan per passenger. A one yuan flat fare is applied for all urban bus routes, and a 60 percent discount is offered to passengers who take buses using ordinary transit cards and an 80 percent discount is offered to those who use student cards. Meanwhile, the city has also improved its transfer facilities, given more right-of-way to buses and optimized the bus route network. Currently, the proportion of Beijing's public traffic to total traffic has increased from 28.2 percent in 2003 to the current 38.9 percent.

To deal with the growing pollution due to an increase in vehicles, Beijing has repeatedly raised emissions standards for new vehicles. Currently, the fuel efficiency of all vehicles for sale in Beijing meets the national IV emissions standard, lowering the level of pollutant emissions of Beijing's four million vehicles by around 20 percent compared with the national III emissions standard. To date, over 100,000 yellow-plate vehicles have been phased out in Beijing, the total pollution emissions of these vehicles is equivalent to that of over two million new cars that meet the national IV emissions standard.

Statistics show that despite an increase of two million vehicles in Beijing since August 2003, traffic congestion has not gotten drastically worse and air quality has continued to improve for 11 consecutive years.

A scientific choice: Beijing will adopt economic means including the "differentiated collection of parking fees” in order to encourage reasonable car usage.

"Currently, Beijing will not limit the number of cars in the city, but will pay more attention to encourage reasonable car usage," Liu said explicitly.

The automobile industry leads the development of the entire manufacturing industry. Automobile consumption is also an important part of driving China in its quest to achieve industrialization and urbanization. The huge demand for automobiles will certainly stimulate the growth of related industries and therefore drive the development of the capital's entire economy and play an indispensable role in solving problems, such as the employment issue.

Liu said that current large international cities generally adopt economic incentives in order to encourage reasonable car usage in the city center. For example, fees are charged for traffic congestion in the downtown districts of London and high parking fees are charged in downtown Tokyo. Facing a continuous increase in the number of cars, Beijing also plans to adopt a series of economic incentives including the "differentiated collection of parking fees" to encourage reasonable car usage.

For this, the Beijing Municipal Traffic Commission explains that different districts have different traffic demands, and the traffic resources supplied might be also different. Therefore, we should implement different traffic policies that are in line with local conditions.

In the old town, we should implement relatively strict management policies for car traffic such as controlling the total number of parking spaces and raising parking fees. In the central city outside the old town, we should implement proper adjustment policy for car traffic. In new towns and in the suburbs, we should offer relatively easy conditions for people to use their car. Currently, "differential parking fee collection" is being studied and demonstrated.

In order to encourage residents to park their cars in suburban park-and-ride lots and enter the city by public transport, in order to reduce car traffic in urban districts, Beijing will plan and construct a car park-and-ride system at in-city railway stations and large-capacity bus rapid transit (BRT) stops along the rim of central city, and implement low price or free parking policies. So far, Beijing has planned 26 park-and-ride sites along in-city railway lines and large-capacity bus rapid transit lines.

Future strategy: build a "public transport city" to solve the problem of traffic congestion. In 2015, up to 45 percent of Beijing residents will travel by public transport in central Beijing.

A harmonious society needs harmonious traffic. Beijing is determined to solve the problems during its development with the thought of development, and go all out to build Beijing into a "public transport city" to get rid of traffic congestion as a result of the growing number of motor vehicles and the constantly increasing population.

Under the construction plan, in 2015, 45 percent of Beijing residents will travel by public transport in central Beijing, and over 50 percent during rush hour. In central Beijing, 90 percent of passengers will be able to reach the nearest bus station by walking no more than 500 meters, and the time spent on waiting for main bus lines will be limited to three to five minutes during rush hour.

Beijing has set a grand plan to "move the city on tracks." In 2009, Beijing, a flourishing city, built an intertwined underground network at an unprecedented pace with 13 subway lines being constructed simultaneously underground. Over the next several years, Beijing will try to open at least one subway line every year, and build 100 kilometers every two years. By 2015, a total of 208 billion yuan is expected to be invested.

Beijing will have rail traffic mileage of 561 kilometers in 2015, when ten million people will take rail transport per day compared with the 3.8 million people at present, and rail transport will account for over 50 percent of public transport compared with the current 23 percent. Residents will be able to reach a subway station by walking 1,000 meters on average within the Fourth Ring road. The public transport in Beijing will be on a par with that of modern, international cities.

Under the Beijing Overall Urban Planning (2004-2020), Beijing will also largely adjust its spatial layout: rather than developing with the "single center" structure of the past, Beijing will build an urban spatial structure of "two axles, two zones and multiple centers" that helps intensive development. Beijing will try to decrease the population in the central part to 5.4 million in 2020 from the current 6.5 million, and the population in the old city of Beijing will decrease from 1.65 million to about 1.1 million. This will radically improve the congested traffic condition in Beijing.