As China has urbanized and the Chinese have become more affluent, owning a car has become a way of life for many middle-class citizens. Even in Beijing, a city plagued by notorious traffic gridlock, the desire for cars remains strong.
Troubled by crowded public transportation systems, the middle class has come to associate cars with the freedom to travel. The city, with a population of about 21 million, now has 5.6 million cars, more than double what it had 10 years ago.
The glut of cars is believed to cause 31 percent of the air pollution in Beijing, according to the city’s environmental watchdog. Not only are cars clogging the city’s streets, they also encroach on public spaces like sidewalks and bike lanes because of a lack of parking.
Faced with the problems brought on by the growing number of cars, city officials decided to take action. This month, Beijing’s transportation authorities said they would keep the number of cars under 6.3 million by the end of 2020 by further tightening the annual quota for license plates. The quota this year is set at 90,000, down from 120,000 a year earlier. City officials are also considering traffic congestion fees based on driving radius and number of trips.