Beijing Considers Congestion Charge to Cut Pollution and Traffic

Beijing, home to some of the world’s worst air pollution and faced with increasing pressure from its citizens, is now considering levying a congestion charge to clamp down on air pollution and the traffic nightmares that continue to plague the capital city.

Auto emissions account for one-third of PM2.5 – airborne particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, in some of the most congested areas of the Chinese capital. The congestion charge is one part of a larger action plan to reduce PM2.5 density by 25% or more by 2017. The city will also develop policies to keep less than 6 million vehicles licensed by the end of 2017, from about 5.35 million now.

The government will also issue additional traffic control rules by the end of this year. Such rules will mainly focus on time and zone restrictions. Additionally, the government will push for more bus lanes and a public bicycle rental system.

The congestion charge is expected to be one of the more contentious pieces to alleviating Beijing of its bad air and bad traffic. According to Binyam Reja, the World Bank’s transport sector coordinator for China, “Road pricing is controversial. Getting political consensus for that is harder than implementing ownership controls.” Even amongst Chinese academics, skepticism abounds. Niu Fengrui, director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told the Global Times, “This program is extremely complicated. The facilities and resources put into the program to monitor the entire city may prove to be less effective than expected and would probably aggravate congestion.”

Whether a congestion charge ultimately is adopted remains to be seen. While a congestion charge may be new to Beijing, such charges have been implemented in other major cities around the world. At least Beijing will not have to reinvent the wheel. The Beijing government can learn from the experience of London, Tokyo, and Singapore.

Walter Wang is Managing Editor of CleanTechies. Follow Walter on Twitter: @energytaxprof

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