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Dubious license plate auctions stay for now
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-25 22:15

Shanghai authorities seem resolute in sticking to the city's current car license plate bidding system -- at least for the near future -- despite growing criticisms and new pressures from the central government.

Officials meanwhile say they will continue trying to find a "legal, reasonable and sustainable" solution to tackle the thorny issue of locating a balance between the heavy traffic and the growing desire among the public to own cars.

"There won't be a sudden big change in the policy we have been carrying on for years," Zhou Ya, director of the policy and regulation department at the Shanghai Development and Reform Commission, told China Daily Tuesday.

Zhou was referring to the car license plate auction practice Shanghai adopted in mid 1980s in order to curb traffic pressure. Through a monthly sealed-bid auction plus limited release of new plates, the municipal government tries to control the number of new cars on area roads.

"What we want is a well-balanced, comprehensive and sustainable way (to solve the problem)," Zhou said. "We don't think it's a good idea if we only focus on short-term returns while catering to a group of people at the cost of another larger group's interests."

"Even though we have some 10-plus per cent of local residents who will get cars, how about the rest who cannot afford a car purchase?"

While Shanghai's population has grown close to 19 million, there are about 2 million vehicles on area streets, including about 200,000 owned by individuals.

Zhou's voice could be understood as the local authority's firm response to criticism from a senior official from the Ministry of Commerce, who was interviewed earlier by the China Central Television (CCTV), saying that Shanghai's practices go against China's new road safety law that came into effect in May.

The official said no government bodies except the domestic public security departments are entitled to issuing car licence plates, dropping a hint that Shanghai's practices are illegal.

"The fact the practice has been in place for so many years just indicates its reasonableness," said Zhou. "Regarding whether it's illegal or not, we think we need a body that is entitled to give an authoritative judgment on the issue."

Zhou also dismissed rumors that a special bond will be issued by the city in July that will replace the auction practice since regional governments are not allowed to do so unless acquiring a go-ahead from the central government.

At Tuesday's routine press briefing held the city government, spokeswoman Jiao Yang said -- when being asked whether the city's car licence plate bidding violates the new road traffic safety law -- Shanghai will firmly implement related State laws and regulations as well as rules passed by the Municipal People's Congress, the local law-making body.

She also stressed that the practice itself is carried out on a provisional basis and needs further testing and improvements.

At the latest monthly auction, held last weekend, the average bid-winning price was about 34,230 yuan (US$4,125) -- over 11,260 yuan (US$1,360) lower than April -- thanks to the considerable increases in plate quotas. The average monthly bid-winning price was about 20,956 yuan (US$2,530) for the year 2002.

"It'll be no good if the restriction on new cars is lifted totally since we've already frequently seen vehicle jams on the roads," said Angela Yang, a local white-collar worker.

"For such a big metropolis like Shanghai, the priority is definitely public transport, and there is no other choice," said Chen Xiaohong, a professor of the transportation engineering school of Tongji University.

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