December 2, 2010

In China, a new licence plate rule keeps cars off streets

GUANGZHOU – A rule to keep nearly half of this southern city’s private vehicles off the streets, part of traffic control measures to help improve air quality and ease traffic congestion during the Asian Games, took effect on Monday.

The new measure caused a huge increase in the number of people taking public transportation.

Under the rule – an experience learned from the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 – vehicles will be banned from city streets from 7 am to 8 pm on alternate days from Nov 1 to 29 and Dec 5 to 21, depending on whether their licence plates end in an even or an odd number.

The 45-day control will not apply to public transport and games-related vehicles, sources with the local traffic police authority said. The number of licensed vehicles in Guangzhou rose from 682,000 in 2004 to more than 1.3 million in 2009, official figures show. Traffic police estimated that up to 40 percent of vehicles will be off the roads during the Asian Games, scheduled to open on Nov 12.

As part of initiatives to benefit from the Asian Games, the local government on Monday also started to offer free public transit for locals to help with commutes.

However, the even-odd rule, together with free rides on buses, subways and ferries, has caused a huge surge in public transportation, especially in subways, in this city of 14 million people.

Temporary traffic controls were introduced in at least eight subway stations during peak time on Monday due to the huge passenger flow, sources with the local metro company said.

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