Tens of thousands of aspiring car owners in Beijing logged on for the chance to do something that is routine in most cities - securing a licence plate.
Motorists scamper for licence plate in China
BEIJING // Tens of thousands of aspiring car owners in the Chinese capital yesterday logged on for the chance to do something that is routine in most cities - securing a licence plate.
A total of 53,549 registered online, according to local media, for a monthly lottery that will hand out registration plates to fewer than half this number, and leave those left out unable to buy and register a new vehicle.
Under swingeing restrictions announced in December, Beijing will issue 20,000 new licence plates each month, totalling 240,000 per year, less than a third the number of 2010.
The measures have been introduced to prevent the worsening of gridlock that paralyses main roads for much of the day.
There are 4.7 million vehicles in Beijing and a recent IBM survey found the city to have the worst commute in the world when factors such as congestion and fuel prices were taken into account.
The rapid growth in vehicle numbers is said to have reversed the effects of pollution-control measures of recent years such as the moving away of industrial plants and the replacement of coal-burning household heating systems with cleaner equipment.
In addition to the new licence plates being issued this year, Beijing predicts there will be 160,000 transfers of registrations from existing vehicles.
In parallel measures, government agencies have been told not to increase the size of their fleets over the next five years and parking charges in the city centre have been increased, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Of the 20,000 plates being issued monthly, 17,600 or 88 per cent are for private car users, with most of the rest going to companies and government bodies.
Officials have said vehicles with non-Beijing registration will be banned from the city at rush-hour periods without a permit, preventing motorists from circumventing the new rules by registering vehicles in neighbouring provinces.
When the measures were first announced just over a week ago, car buyers rushed to register vehicles before the restrictions took effect. The number of registrations doubled to 30,000 in one week, leading to the resignation of Huang Wei, a vice-mayor in charge of traffic management.
Also to control car numbers, vehicles with registration plates ending with certain digits are banned from entering the city during one weekday each week. Authorities are considering reintroducing an alternate-day ban they imposed during the 2008 Olympics.
The car industry is growing rapidly in China, with the country having overtaken the United States in 2009 to become the world's largest car market, with 13.5m cars and small commercial vehicles sold that year, compared to 10.4m in the United States.
Beijing last week inaugurated five new subway and light-rail lines, bringing the total length of the city's network to 336km. By 2015 this is due to have expanded to 561km and by 2020 to 1,000km.