Let us applaud what they did not do.
The municipal authorities in Beijing have refrained from adopting apparently effective, yet morally problematic measures, to control traffic congestion. Instead, we have fairness.
Traffic congestion has become too serious in Beijing to be left unattended. The city already has 4.7 million vehicles registered. The local road system, which includes all the planned expansion programs, can support 6.7 million vehicles maximum. Based on the present growth, there will be 7 million vehicles on the road by 2015. The result will be a nightmare.
So there was popular anticipation of forceful administrative intervention to check the accelerating car ownership. More specifically, there was the speculation that Beijing would follow Shanghai's lead in auctioning license plates. To our pleasant surprise, that has not occurred. And we find it especially inspiring that the authorities in Beijing cared not just for effectiveness.
Raising the threshold of ownership might be the most efficient way to discourage potential automobile owners from buying a car of their own. But the municipal decision-makers looked beyond efficiency and took fairness into consideration. It is reassuring to know that the local transport administration is determined to "never" resort to auctioning license plates to control automobile ownership. And that was because it is against the principle of fairness. It is unfair to those who do not have a car in their possession, whether or not they may choose to buy one someday. Nor is it fair when the potential buyers' financial resources are considered - the better off will get what they want more likely than others.
In a culture like ours, public offices and their employees are accustomed to, and have all the means and resources necessary for, imposing arbitrary decisions. In fact, they are notorious for justifying disregard of fairness with just ideals. That the authorities in Beijing have to this point resisted that temptation and displayed respect for the legitimacy of means is indeed something precious.
The ideas, to further improve public transport and restrict the growth in automobile ownership by public offices, demonstrated more sophisticated thinking in composing a sensible local transport framework.
That more and more people want to own an automobile of their own does have much to do with improving financial conditions. But it is also related to the inconvenience of using public transport. Making the city's buses and subways more accessible, convenient, efficient, and, better still, comfortable, will turn them into attractive options for local commuters.
Given Beijing's role as the national capital, vehicles owned and used by public offices are a considerable source of pressure on the local transport network. Yet they have been absent from most local congestion-control programs. Which is unfair. The latest move is a step forward in taking into account those vehicles owned by the municipal authorities.
(China Daily 12/14/2010 page8)