Beijing’s much-anticipated Olympic traffic restrictions – in which cars will be allowed onto the roads on alternating days depending on whether their license plates end with even or odd numbers – went into effect on Sunday. The restrictions will take an estimated 45% of Beijing’s 3.3 million cars off the road. The government hopes that will both ease congestion and reduce Beijing’s world-famous air pollution for the Olympics.
After a few days under the new regime, the results are muddled. As far as congestion is concerned, the effect has been almost immediate. Major thoroughfares such as the Second Ring Road are always going to be congested, even with half of the vehicles off the roads. But my daily commute, which can take as much as 30 minutes in a cab during rush hour, was completed in just over 10 minutes yesterday at the peak of what is normally gridlock conditions.
As to that other, and arguably more important, goal of improving air quality, the jury is still out. The skyline is still hazy. Without doubt, the weather these past few days has been an improvement over the worst that “Greyjing” has to throw at you. But I still haven’t seen anything approaching the crystal blue skies the government is hoping for.
Admittedly, it’s probably too early to make any definitive judgments on the success of these traffic restrictions in cutting down on Beijing’s air pollution. But this is where we stand as of now.
There are some interesting side effects to the restrictions, however. In speaking with a higher-up at the Beijing headquarters of a multinational-conglomerate-death-star-type company, she mentioned that the company had decided not to hire a private car for its CEO, who will be visiting the city for the games. Having a private car available for the duration of the chief’s stay would have meant hiring two cars, one with an even-numbered and one with an odd-numbered plate, to the tune of around RMB5,000 per day – a price tag they deemed too steep. Keep in mind, this is a huge firm with deep pockets.
Their solution? They’re paying a cab driver to be on retainer for them, since cabs are exempted from the restrictions. At least one driver will be coming out ahead by the end of the games.