Thursday, 26 February 2015

Talk of Beijing congestion charging creates opposition

Typically, narratives around government policies in China are dominated by the false belief that if a Chinese Government body says something is going to happen, then nothing can be done about it.  The truth is much more subtle, and besides indicating - in this case - that congestion charging needs to be considered carefully if it is to get public support - it also indicates that China has moved from the stereotype of the Maoist single-minded unity, to one where there is public discourse about policy.

The (Hong Kong based and owned) South China Morning Post reports on a delegate from the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport saying that congestion charging was being considered for city.  However, the public response on weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter) was mostly negative. 

The report says:

Opinions posted on weibo accounts were almost one-sidedly negative, with some accusing the government of being "lazy", "brutal" and "greedy".

Nie Sheng, a resident of Daxing who drives to work in Haidian, said a congestion charge would not solve Beijing's traffic jams, judging by past experience.

"In recent years, the government has restricted sales of cars, raised parking fees in the city centre and banned non-local vehicles from the city, but the traffic has only got worse," he said.

Nie also worried that the charge would penalise low income and middle class drivers while sparing the rich and powerful, who could either afford the charge or used government cars.

It shows that if a charge is to be introduced, it needs to be part of a strategy that complements it, not just a tax.  One comment from a government body expresses concern that a congestion charge could affect retail sales, but professor of urban traffic management at Beijing Jiaotong Univeristy, Chen Xumei says one reason why so many use cars is the attitude to public transport:

Most people drive because they feel no dignity on public transport, which is inconvenient, congested, uncomfortable and dirty," she said. "The money collected from the congestion charge should be used to improve public transport"

Indeed, a package to make public transport more user friendly and able to meet a wider range of demand would also make a difference. 

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