BEIJING: After restricting car sales, China is now considering imposing a congestion tax to try and control heavy traffic in its higly-polluted capital during peak hours.
The debate is heating up in Beijing as municipal officials continue to discuss the possibility of bringing in a congestion tax to try to make motorists think twice about driving into the city's high-traffic areas.
With millions of vehicles filling the city's roads on a daily basis, it’s not uncommon for drivers during peak hours to find themselves measuring their travelling distance in metres, rather than kilometres, state-run portal china.org.cn reported.
To try to help ease this, municipal authorities are now actively discussing the idea of a congestion tax, it said.
The Chinese capital which has over 5.5 million vehicles has already restricted the purchase of new cars to just 20,000 that too through a lottery system to obtain a license number plate. This was aimed at both restricting the traffic as well as to reduce automobile pollution.
A number of other steps have also been taken, including increasing parking fees and implementing restrictions on when people can drive, based on their license plate number.
The congestion tax proposal would hit drivers with a yet-unspecified surcharge to travel into Beijing's high-traffic areas.
The municipal government is in the process of moving most of its offices into the suburbs, which should ease traffic in central Beijing, where most municipal government offices are currently located.
Ma Zhong, professor of Environmental Studies at Renmin University, says while well-intentioned, the license-plate restrictions have had the opposite effect.
"Those policies may have intended to control the number of vehicles. But they ended up just doing the opposite, because as a result of the controls, there was a further stimulation of vehicle purchases," Ma said.
If people can afford a second vehicle to get around license plate restrictions, its left many questioning whether a congestion tax will be enough to dissuade drivers, he said. Zheng Wentao, associate professor of Earth and Space Sciences with Peking University, says he believes the core issue in eliminating traffic congestion in Beijing is to fix the layout of the roads.
"The problem of traffic jams is best resolved if the roads themselves are well designed. It's not difficult to figure out where the problem areas are and what are the main factors behind the traffic jams," Zheng said.