Possible congestion fees cause a stir

By Xie Fang (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-28 08:29

HANGZHOU: Talk of a possible plan to ease traffic in Hangzhou by levying a congestion charge on cars entering the city's centre has caused a stir among car-owners.

Heavily congested cities like London and Singapore have successfully used such fees to cut down on traffic in their downtown areas.

But reports that traffic management authorities had surveyed some roads in Hangzhou to determine whether congestion fees were feasible have garnered much attention, most of it negative, even though local authorities have yet to reach any conclusions about the fees.

One car owner, surnamed Liu, from the outskirts of Hangzhou, expressed dismay at the idea.

"I don't think a congestion charge is necessary for the city at this stage," said the 42-year-old.

"One major problem is that public transportation is not good enough at the moment. Many people will start taking buses after giving up their cars because of the fees, but if they have to spend more time commuting because the transportation system is inadequate then that is definitely unfair for them."

The bus capacity rate in the city is about 23 seats per 10,000 people, which ranks among the most developed of the country's cities in terms of capacity.

However, bus services have slowed in the past few years because of worsening traffic jams. Roughly 70 per cent of all buses do not arrive on time.

Local police have said that Hangzhou's city centre had hit its peak capacity for traffic flow during rush hour. If no effective measures are taken to improve the situation in the next two years, congestion could increase to alarming levels, they said.

As of last month, there were 1.18 million cars in the city. Each day more than 300,000 vehicles flow into the city centre. In addition, local residents buy some 50,000 new cars every year.

Congestion charges are one way of ensuring that people who drive their cars downtown pay to use valuable road space.
A broadcaster with the Zhejiang Radio Station Traffic Channel, surnamed Liu, pointed out that the city should be more concerned about improving the city's roads.

"If drivers are discouraged from driving in the city centre during peak times, there should be other ways to get around. However, this seems impossible given the poor state of the current road network,?he said.

Liu also pointed out that Hangzhou should not be trying to emulate London.

London, which suffers from the worst traffic congestion in the United Kingdom, has been charging drivers 8 pounds (US$15) per day to enter the city's centre during peak hours since February 2003. As a result, traffic flows have declined by 16 per cent in downtown areas.

Ni Meigen, a manager of a catering company at the Zhejiang Provincial People's Hospital, urged local authorities to search for other solutions to the problem.

"The increasing congestion could be the result of poor traffic management and a lack of awareness of traffic regulations. This is something the government should work on rather than just focussing on charging people money," she said.

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