April 12, 2011 § 2 Comments
“Walk, don’t drive.” That was the message of the Green Pedestrian Crossing campaign, sponsored last year by the China Environmental Protection Foundation. Launched in car-crazed Shanghai, the campaign spread to 15 other Chinese cities and, according to the Foundation, reached “3.92 million people and increased general public awareness about environmental awareness by 86%.”
How the Foundation arrived at these figures is not entirely clear. But the figures–and their accuracy–aside, the campaign, as captured in the following 2-minute video, was highly original.
In the words of the China Environmental Protection Foundation, the award-winning campaign (Adfest 2011 “Best of Show”; Gold Design Lion at Cannes International Advertising Festival 2010) “demonstrated to the public that even an ordinary moment could be ‘green,’ and that taking one small step can make a significant contribution to protecting the environment.”
Whether it made a dent in China’s driving mania–or in the country’s carbon output–is doubtful, but the Green Pedestrian Crossing campaign was certainly eye-catching and deserving of all the awards it garnered.
March 28, 2011 § 5 Comments
You’ve heard of road rage. But Beijing, with its attempt to cut back on car ownership and ease the congestion that frustrates the millions of drivers in the capital city, may be generating a new strain of anti-social disorder, “off-the-road rage.”
As you may remember, Beijingers bought cars in record numbers last year, more than 800,000 units, increasing the total number on the roads there to nearly 5 million and making Beijing, together with Mexico City, the top city in the world for “commuter pain” (IBM commuter pain survey).
By December of 2010, Beijing officials concluded that the car-buying frenzy, though good for China’s economy, had to be reined in; the city’s traffic and congestion were out of control, as was the dirty exhaust being spewed into the Beijing air—by idling cars especially. With the efficiency a one-party state can muster, Beijing declared that in 2011 car sales would be limited to 20,000/month (17,600 for individual car buyers, the rest reserved for commercial or government use) or 240,000 for the year. And to ensure fairness, the government would institute a lottery system. During the first week of each month, individuals could enter their name in lottery; at the end of the month, 17,600 lucky entries would be drawn—with the winners winning the right to purchase a car. (On the late December day that Beijing officials announced its plans for 2011 more than 30,000 residents of Beijing rushed out to auto dealerships to buy a car before the lottery system kicked in.)
In January of 2011, 210,000 people entered their names in the lottery; 17,600 of them won licenses. That left a lot of disappointed entrants (192,400). Their names were automatically rolled over into the February lottery, along with the 137,045 new applicants. So while January’s lottery was competitive, February’s was still more so: 17,600 out of more than 300,000. The odds of winning had worsened significantly: January’s 1 in 11 had fallen to 1 in 17. Now, this month, there’s March Madness: including the rollovers from the January and February contests, there are about 400,000 total applications, putting the odds of winning at something like 1 in 23.
It also means that by the end of March you’ll have 380,000 disappointed Beijingers waiting hopefully each month for their name to be drawn. And, of course, this number will only grow larger with each passing month.
I’m not sure that traffic congestion in Beijing has noticeably improved. But I am pretty sure that as the odds of winning the car lottery plummet, the frustration among some of the repeatedly unsuccessful entrants will mount. Give them a few more disappointing months and their rage—as a consequence of being unable to take to the roads—may be no less than the rage experienced by some drivers caught in snarling traffic and unable to escape the roads.T
Think of it as the yang of “on-the-road rage” giving birth to the yin of “off-the-road rage.”
January 31, 2011 § 1 Comment
On his blog, artist Fan Jianping sketches a flooding Beijing–even as the capital city is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years. It’s a clever cartoon.
January 25, 2011 § 3 Comments
You live in Beijing and are tired of having your face smashed up against the window of the subway car of the #1 line during rush hour—or any other hour of the day for that matter.
So you’re thinking of buying a car. You’re not especially happy that by waiting until 2011 you missed out entirely on the tax incentive that the Beijing Muncipal Government had been offering: in 2009, instead of the normal 10% sales tax, you’d have paid only 5% (if you bought a car with a 1.6 liter engine or smaller); last year, you’d have paid 7.5%, still a bargain. But, today, the government, less eager to incentivize the automobile industry and more eager to reduce the horrific congestion on Beijing roads, has returned the tax rate to 10% (WSJ).
You know that the subway system is far more economical, a ride from one end of town to another costing no more than 30 cents; and you know too that traveling the same distance in a car is likely to take you 3 or 4 times longer than in a subway car. Still, the Zhou family next door has their shiny new Buick, or maybe it’s an Audi, so why shouldn’t you?
You can afford it, and you owe it to yourself and your family to show you can afford it. You figure, sure, the drive might take longer, but you’ll have your ac or heater going full blast, you’ll be listening to the music of your choice, and, instead of standing with your head pinned under someone’s armpit, you’ll be sitting comfortably in your climate-controlled leather seat. Yep, it’s time to take the plunge, you decide.
“Wait just one moment,” you hear the new lottery system telling you. Right!, now you remember. You don’t just go out, put down the 50k in cash, and drive away in your brand new automobile. The Zhous may have done that, but the Zhous bought last year, before the Beijing leadership declared that beginning December 24, 2010, interested buyers would have to enter a lottery to purchase a car. Why? Traffic in Beijing has become unbearable. Traveling a couple of miles can easily require 2-3 hours.
The city has become notorious. In an IBM survey, it and Mexico City tied for honors as having the worst traffic jams in the world—each scoring a 99 out of 100 on a “commuter-pain index.”
So now you ask yourself, “what are my chances in this lottery thing?” Turns out, not real good. You start crunching the numbers. In 2010, more than 800,000 new cars took to the roads in Beijing. In 2011, the government has capped the number of new cars—for the entire year—at 240,000. That’s a mere 20,000 each month. You’ve read the papers and know that on the night of December 23 alone, the day before the new rules went into effect, more than 30,000 cars were sold. You know then that demand is terrifically high. You also know from the papers that in the first 11 hours of 2011 more than 40,000 people registered for the lottery. By the end of the first week of 2011, when registration for January’s lottery closed, roughly 220,00 people had entered their names in the lottery, from which 20,000 will be drawn on January 26 (China Daily). Chances then: 1 out of 10. Not good odds. But they won’t get better in February’s drawing, you figure. The 200,000 less lucky January entrees will automatically be rolled over to the February lottery.
You’re desperate. You consider buying a car from a dealership in nearby Tianjin and registering it with your cousin there but discover that Beijing city officials have anticipated you: they’ve drawn up a rule disallowing all cars registered elsewhere from driving in Beijing during rush hours—which is most of the time. And police, according to the China Daily, are having a field day flagging down cars with non-Beijing plates and issuing $15 fines. No, that option isn’t going to work.
So now you’re struck with one, final brilliant idea: rent a car. It’s cheaper than buying in the end, you don’t need an expensive insurance policy, and you don’t have to enter a lottery. Unfortunately, this idea has struck others before it struck you. You discover that 90% of the cars available for rental in Beijing—and 100% of desirable models–have already been rented out.
You’re resigned now. Public transit is pretty good, after all. And you know that even with a car, municipal law, in an attempt to ease congestion, will require you to keep the car off the road one day a week—depending on the last digit of your plate. You’re reminded too that Beijing has just extended its subway system, opening up five new lines on one day (December 30) alone—so getting from place to place has become still easier and more convenient.
And yet, you can’t entirely free yourself from the thought that there’s always the February lottery. Or the March lottery. Or the ….
October 27, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Recent news has me thinking again about cars in Beijing.
1. There are about 4.4 million cars on Beijing’s roads today, with an additional 3 million (at least) expected by 2015.
2. Traffic can stall for hours at a time. Drivers complain that traveling 4 miles can take 2-3 hours. In an attempt to relieve congestion, Beijing traffic authorities recently (October 10) implemented a new policy, effective through January 2011:
Cars with plates ending in 4 or 9 are banned from the road on Mondays;
those ending in 5 or 0 are banned on Tuesdays;
those ending in 1 or 6 care are banned on Wednesdays;
those ending in 2 or 7 are banned on Thursdays;
those ending in 3 or 8 are banned on Fridays.
On weekends there are no restrictions.
3. Simple math suggests that this policy would reduce the eligible number of cars on the road on weekdays by roughly 880,000 units, no small number it would seem.
4. But, in fact, it is smaller than it would seem, at least on Mondays. Why? The number four in Chinese is pronounced si. It happens that si is also the pronunciation for the word meaning “to die” or “death.” Chinese don’t want to be driving around in cars marked for death. Consequently, in registering new cars with the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau (BTMB), they insist on plates without the number 4. Now, according to the China Daily, BTMB, this past Wednesday, threw in the towel altogether, announcing that it would no longer even make plates that contain the number 4. (Curiously, in the same announcement, the vice director of the department dealing with accidents in the BTMB insisted that the si thing is all a baseless superstition, saying that “there is no link between the number of traffic accidents and license plate numbers.”)
5. The lesson here is: whatever the last number of your license plate, don’t even think of driving in downtown Beijing on a Monday, as relatively few cars are sidelined by the ban. Consider Friday instead: the pronunciation for the number 8 (ba) is similar to the one for “prosperous” or “to become wealthy.” Everybody wants 8′s.
October 21, 2010 § 1 Comment
Today there are 2000 or so electric cars in China and the U.S. combined. The Chinese aim to increase that number—and quickly. This past weekend, as the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China met in a plenary session to consider the next (12th) five-year plan (2011-2015), the Minister of Science and Technology announced that China expected to increase annual production of electric cars to 1 million by the year 2020 (China Daily).
How? Apparently, the government has pledged $17 billion dollars in funding, to support research and development, to build recharging centers, and to subsidize buyers (in 26 selected cities) up to $8800 per vehicle.
The benefits? Lower carbon emissions in a country desperately in need of lower carbon emissions; reduced dependence on oil, in a country increasingly dependent on Africa and the Middle East to keep their cars running; and a huge head start for Chinese manufacturers in the design and production of a clean energy car, the automobile of the future.
It all makes you wonder: What is the U.S. doing? What is Washington thinking? And when China becomes the world’s leading producer of electric cars, will we bash the Chinese? Or will we bash ourselves?