Car owners in Beijing may face congestion fees in a move to ease traffic flow, according to a five-year plan released by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport.
The proposal follows the limiting of new cars in January last year, which capped new car ownership through a lottery system at 20,000 per month.
The number of vehicles on Beijing’s streets surpassed 5 million at the beginning of this year, making it one of the most congested Chinese cities.
“Congestion fees have been a key topic of research by the city’s transport department in the past several years,” said Song Guohua, an associate professor in transport planning and management at Beijing Jiaotong University, who has been involved in the research for the five-year plan.
“As mega cities face more serious traffic congestion, levying congestion fees has become a trend. In general, I think the method is necessary and rational.”
Yet Song said more should be done before the levying of congestion charges can be carried out effectively.
“The city should improve the public transport system to provide better options for those who give up using private cars and choose to use public transport.”
According to the plan, the Beijing government will devote more effort to developing public transportation. Half of all residents in urban areas are expected to choose public transport by the end of 2015, while the total mileage of the urban railway system will reach 660 kilometers.
Levying congestion fees in Beijing is likely to be a flexible practice, which may cover a certain area and be carried out within a certain time frame, according to Song.
However, other experts reacted more cautiously.
“A precondition for a congestion charge is that a city can offer convenient and comfortable public transportation,” Yang Hongshan, an associate professor of the School of Public Administration and Policy at Renmin University of China, told China National Radio.
“Besides, collecting such fees may be unfair to private car owners, as those driving government-owned cars can always have the bills paid for by the government,” he said. “So more planning and research are needed before carrying out the measure to avoid possible side effects.”
“Beijing has already increased parking fees in urban areas to ease congestion, but the traffic congestion is still serious. So I don’t think charging fees is a good solution,” said Li Jingshan, a man who works near Beijing’s Central Business District.
Beijing has adopted a series of measures this year to tackle traffic congestion.
An intelligent parking-fee collection system has covered more than 1,000 parking spaces along roads in the urban area since May.
The system is intended to regulate parking fee collection and monitor parking spaces to guide car owners seeking a space.
The first batch of 2,000 bikes provided by the government for public use in Beijing, aimed to boost the use of public transport in the city, appeared on the streets in June. The total number of such bikes will reach 25,000 by the end of the year, according to a government plan.