New rules, subways ease congestion in Beijing

Updated: 2011-01-12 23:00
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BEIJING - Traffic congestion has eased "obviously" in Beijing since authorities launched a string of new, stricter traffic rules and opened five new subway lines last month, a local transport official said Wednesday.

"On average, the duration of traffic jams has been reduced by more than two hours per day, from 3 hours and 55 minutes before the new year to the current 1 hour 45 minutes since January 1," said Li Xiaosong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications.

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Li's committee has unveiled an index system of Beijing's traffic congestion, the first for the city.

According to the system, 0-2 signified traffic was "smooth," 2-4 "generally smooth," 4-6 signalled "slight congestion," 6-8 "moderate congestion," and 8-10 "heavy congestion," Li said.

"Before the New Year, Beijing's congestion index usually stood above 8.2, but it has been 6 since January 1," she said.

Li attributed the improvement to the new traffic rules and subway lines.

Massive traffic jams have long been a headache for Beijing, a city of 20 million people and 4.8 million vehicles. Last year, an average 2,000 new cars hit the city's streets every day.

On December 23, authorities in Beijing announced they will slash new car registrations to ease traffic gridlock. This year, the city will allow only 240,000 vehicles to be registered, about a third of the number of last year.

Moreover, Beijing municipal government agencies and public institutions were prohibited from increasing the size of their vehicle fleets over the next five years.

Other measures include higher parking fees in the city's central areas, and stricter traffic rules for cars registered outside Beijing.

An odd-even license plate number system was introduced to allow cars to be driven every other day in peak hours in some congested areas.

Beijing opened five new suburban subway lines on December 30 with a combined length of 108 km, bringing the city's total number of subway lines to 14 and the total length to 336 km.

Beijing was building more subway lines, Li said.

The number of lines in the city would reach 19 by 2015. Then, their combined length would total 561 km. By 2020, the total subway length would increase to 1,000 km, she said.

"Developing public transport, especially rapid rail transit, is an important move for Beijing to ease traffic congestion and improve urban functionality," she said.

Li Feng, who lives in Daxing, a suburban district in southern Beijing, told Xinhua Wednesday that he had felt the positive changes in Beijing's traffic.

"I used to drive at a speed of only 20 km per hour when I entered and left the city in the morning and evening rush hours, but now I can drive at 40 km per hour," he said.

Yet many people are waiting to see the long-term effect of the measures as Beijing still faces pressure from the huge demand for private cars.

The Beijing transport authority on Sunday revealed it had received 215,425 new car license applications, after this month's application period closed late Saturday night.

But only a tenth of the applicants will get license plates this month, after a lottery is held on January 26.