Beijing to curb private-car ownership

Posted: 20 June 2005

Faced with a mounting smog problem and huge traffic snarls, city officials in Beijing are taking steps to staunch a surge in the number of privately-owned cars.

Governmental officials say the only way to protect air quality is to sharply curb the rise in cars for household use. And as Beijing is the host city of the 2008 Olympic Games, officials are pushing for citywide environmental protection measures.

For example, Beijing decided that a steelworks factory should be built outside the city to stave off air pollution.

An estimated 1.87 million passenger cars were using roads in the capital last year. Of that number, about 1.3 million were privately-owned vehicles.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the number of household cars in the city amounts to about 10 per cent of Beijing's population. The figure is double that of other major cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Fuel taxes

Many say Beijing's high rate of private vehicle ownership is due to the relatively low prices for which cars are sold in the city.

The average car price here is 139,000 yuan (1.81 million yen). This compares with roughly 220,000 yuan (2.86 million yen) in Shanghai and 190,000 yuan (2.47 million yen) in Guangzhou.

The Shanghai municipal government is also taking measures to curb the rising number of privately-owned cars. The government there has placed a cap on the number of license plates it issues monthly.

In Beijing, the municipal government is considering raising parking charges and tightening regulations on vehicle exhaust emissions.

The central government is also getting involved. For example, the Finance Ministry is now considering introducing a fuel tax. The ministry has already mapped out legislation for a new tax but held off submitting it to the national assembly.

"The Finance Ministry has shelved plans to introduce a fuel tax for the time being because of the global rise in oil prices" Finance Minister Jin Renqing said.

Officials fear that the new tax could prove too much of a burden on consumers if oil prices continue to surge. That could adversely impact the economy.

Status symbol

In 2004, car production in China passed the 5 million mark. Of the nation's total output that year, passenger cars accounted for 2.26 million-a year-on-year increase of 10 per cent. The figure is double that of 2002.

This year, however, new car sales are down, apparently because consumers expect prices to drop in the near future.

Auto output of the first quarter of this year (January to March) decreased by 2.8 per cent from the corresponding period of last year.

Many automobile manufacturers and sales agents have voiced concern over Beijing city's accelerated push to curb the increase in household-car ownership.

Many Beijing residents regard car ownership as a status symbol and are expected to be bitterly opposed to plans for a new fuel tax.

Source: INS/Asahi Shimbun (June 18, 2005)

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