A hotly debated congestion charge may be implemented next week in Beijing to address traffic congestion and air pollution. The intention behind the policy is good, but other options, such as curbing the use of official cars, adopting reversible lanes and encouraging car pooling would be more effective.
The most effective measure would be to reduce the use of official cars. This would reduce traffic flow and improve air quality significantly. It would also relieve the public tax burden, improve social justice and establish the reputation of the city administrators.
During the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2006, the Beijing municipal government banned the use of 490,000 official cars, 80 percent of the total. The ban had an immediate effect on the city's traffic and environment. More importantly, it had no negative impact on normal government functions.
In addition, adopting reversible lanes is another option that has proved to be effective but failed to capture due attention. This would mean switching the direction of traffic flows in given lanes to relieve congestion into or out of the city during rush hours.
Compared with congestion charges, reversible lanes would be much more complicated to implement and not profitable, which may explain why some city administrators are not so enthusiastic about it.
Beijing tested reversible lanes in 2006, but the program was soon shelved because both administrators and participants thought it was too complicated. On the other hand, Shanghai performed well in trials. By installing road signs, which repeatedly issue reminders about directions for traffic directions and paving new road surface markings, drivers have become familiar with the lanes and the program has become feasible.
Other options, such as car pooling, would also be effective, but they are also complicated to put into practice. In Beijing, car pooling has been given a brush off because some city administrators think that it is "unsafe" and "has no legal safeguard."
In summary, levying a congestion charge is not a so good decision because even if it helps address traffic jams and air pollution, it would not be as effective as other measures.
The author is the deputy editor-in-chief of Encyclopedic Knowledge magazine.
This article was translated by Chen Xia. Its original unabridged version was published in Chinese.
Opinion articles reflect the views of the authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.
PHOTO: Traffic jam has become a headache in Beijing.