China’s capital announced on Thursday that it will sharply limit new vehicle registrations to try to ease massive traffic jams that are rapidly turning Beijing’s streets into parking lots.
The city will only allow 240,000 vehicles to be registered next year, said Zhou Zhengyu, vice-secretary general of the Beijing city government. The figure is equal to a little more than one-third of the total number of new cars put on the capital’s streets this year.
Traffic jams in Beijing have worsened recently, with the city dithering over how to clear up the smoggy congestion while still allowing the Communist country’s burgeoning middle class the automobiles they crave.
Increasingly affluent Chinese want cars for status and a sign of independence, and they have easily found ways to finesse official restrictions in the past.
Mr. Zhou told a news conference that the restrictions would start on Friday, with registrations allocated by a license plate lottery system.
The new limits had been anticipated by the public, sparking a buying spree last week. The official Xinhua News Agency said 30,000 new vehicles were registered in the past week alone, at least three times the normal rate.
When Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, it banned vehicles with odd or even-number plates to drive on alternate days. Now all cars are banned from the streets one day a week, based on their license plate numbers. But some Chinese have sought to evade that rule by buying a second vehicle. About one-fifth of new sales are for a second car, the government says.
Official figures say Beijing now has 4.76 million vehicles, compared to 2.6 million in 2005.
An average of nearly 2,000 new cars hit the road each day in Beijing, a city of 17 million. Before the latest restrictions were announced, that growth current rate, the Beijing Transportation Research Centre estimates that car ownership will reach seven million by 2015.
China has been pushing automobiles as a growth industry, and it overtook the United States in 2009 as the world’s biggest car market, with sales surging 45 percent to 13.6 million vehicles.