Are the Chinese Giving Up on Motordom?
There’s an important story here: the one being told, and the one implied.
Bloomberg yesterday reported that China to Boost Urban Transport as City Congestion Worsens:
The government will support the development of environmentally friendly urban transport systems and offer tax breaks and fuel subsidies for mass transit vehicles, according to a statement by the State Council, or cabinet, posted on the central government’s website on Jan. 5. …
Li Keqiang, No 2 in the ruling Communist Party’s hierarchy, is championing urbanization as a new growth engine that will boost incomes and consumption. The focus on improving public transport comes as the government faces growing discontent over pollution that’s caused partly by surging car ownership.
I have never understood why China committed itself to Motordom in the first place: the development of a massive automobile industry, promotion of cars to the rising middle-class, and a huge expansion of its motorway system, along with all the auto-dependent urban form that went along with it.
It couldn’t possibly work. A back-of-the-envelope calculation, comparing the amount of road space, current and projected, with the increase in vehicle use, would result almost immediately in totally congested cities. Which is pretty much what happened.
Their planning did call for a huge increase in rapid-transit rail capacity – and they achieved astonishing results. Some of the major cities also recognized the inevitable:
Beijing put four subway routes into operation on Dec. 30, bringing the number of lines in the Chinese capital to 16. The city, with a population of more than 20 million, already caps the number of new auto registrations and limits the use of private vehicles on designated days based on their license plate numbers. The government is planning to build a road-congestion charging system, the city’s transport commission said in August.
But it wasn’t enough. So now the commitment is to more transit expansion – with more emphasis on buses – and (this will be the test) constraints on car use:
The government will aim to make public services the “dominant” form of transport in urban areas and boost the use of electric vehicles such as buses and street cars in addition to rail transit, it said.
Special shuttle services, including airport and school buses, will be allowed to use public transport lanes and parking may be banned in congested areas. Local authorities should aim to put a bus stop every 500 meters in city centers, according to the statement.
The government will encourage the development of smart cards and mobile payment systems, and initiatives such as increasing the use of vehicle rental and better taxi-booking facilities will be supported.
I doubt there will be any reduction in auto manufacturing and sales, however. So the next story will be the one to watch: Can the Chinese actually reject Motordom?