LHASA -- Vehicle tax has been introduced for the first time in Tibet Autonomous Region in response to a surge in the number of motor vehicles in this Southwest China region, according to local tax authorities.
"The tax will contribute to energy-saving and pollution control efforts, and improve the government's control over the motor market," said a spokesman of the Tibet autonomous regional office of the State Administration of Taxation.
The spokesman added the tax, which has been in place in other parts of China since 1994, would also help narrow the wealth gap, an optimistic claim given an annual charge of 120 yuan (US$16.4) for a private car with a one-liter engine, and 360 yuan for engines greater than one liter, is not a crippling fee for someone who can afford to buy a car.
The central government decided not to impose vehicle tax in Tibet more than a decade ago as the region was underdeveloped.
But more than ten years on, there were 143,900 civilian vehicles by the end of 2006 in Tibet, meaning one in every 20 people owned an automobile.
Lhasa, with a population of 400,000, had at least 70,000 motor vehicles as of last September and the number is growing by 50 a day.
The per capita car ownership is close to that of Beijing, which has 17 million people and 3.08 million cars, despite the fact Beijing's per capita GDP is six times that of Tibet.
The fast-growing fleet of automobiles has changed commuting life for Lhasa residents. Some office workers complain they spend an average of 20 minutes more on their way to and from work than they did four years ago.
But there is still no immediate sign of a pollution problem in Lhasa, as the local environment watchdog said its air quality was good on 363 days last year.