Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beijing’s Congestion Buster: The License Plate Lottery

Look familiar? Congestion in Beijing.

Think congestion is bad here? LA has nothing on Beijing. Gridlock and pollution are so bad in China’s capitol that the government strictly limits the number of cars on the roads. Here, if you have the means, you can buy a car. In Beijing, would-be motorists need to win a license plate lottery before they purchase a new ride (though some people are finding sneaky workarounds).

This year, 240,000 new license plates were issued. In 2014, that number will drop to 150,000. And by 2017, it’ll be just 90,000, though additional plates will be available for “clean” vehicles, such as electric cars. Even if you luck out and win the lottery, registering the car could cost you more than the car itself. 

The concerns prompting the lottery are understandable. The average speed in Beijing is about nine miles per hour (roughly the same speed as an easy bike ride) and auto emissions account for about 25% of air pollution. In addition to the license plate lottery, Beijing’s government hopes to combat the traffic and pollution problems by expanding transit options, establishing more electric vehicle charging stations and natural gas stations, and getting high-polluting vehicles off the road.

Beijing is a worst-case scenario. No one is likely to ever propose a license plate lottery in California. (How well would THAT go over?) Caltrans has a more modest proposal to reduce emissions and congestion: cut back on driving where possible. Combine trips. Take advantage of carpool lanes. Travel off-peak. Ride a bike. Take transit. Maybe even walk. And the next time you get stuck in traffic, before you get mad, remember that YOU are traffic. You help create gridlock. And you can be part of the solution, too.