Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Congestion Conundrum

Today rush hour home was pretty bad.

I followed my new commute route, taking a bus to get onto the fourth ring road and then waited for the 101.

Then it turned out the 101 went the old route and I could have caught it in front of my office.

Never mind.

The 101 bus was absolutely packed. I squeezed in at the front of the bus, standing right by the windshield. And there were a few other bodies behind me too.

On top of that traffic inched along, and at points stood at a standstill for a while. It was not the most pleasant experience to be crammed like sardines for over half an hour.

Meanwhile, people in cars, usually only with the driver in it or another passenger, gave us smug looks as if to say: ha ha I don't have to take the loser cruiser anymore. I have a car.

But they too were caught in the same traffic jam as us.

Beijing is laid out like a square cobweb, with the Forbidden City in the middle. There are rings emanating from it, second, third, fourth, fifth and even sixth ring roads, with arteries crossing through them diagonally.

The only way to get around is to get onto one of these ring roads to the direction you want to go and then plunge into the web again to get to your destination. That's why traffic is horrendous.

On top of that, the capital has over three million cars on the road. That's at least a million too many.

The government doesn't stop people from buying cars and instead tells them not to drive so much. That's because it has a direct stake in the car industry. Granted more subway lines are opening up in the next few months leading up to the Olympics, but when the average salary is 3,000RMB (US$399) a month, taking the metro which is more than triple the bus fare, is not an option.

The government should really limit the number of cars on the road, and put more buses on so that commuters don't have to cram onto the bus, because they don't know when the next one will come.

But car owners think they have a right to drive their status symbol despite the effects it has on the environment. And yes, that's an attitude you'll find in developed countries too.

However, the Chinese government does have the power to fix things. Last month's four-day trial of taking half the cars off the road was executed swiftly and almost everyone obeyed. Ideally this exercise should be made into policy. But for now it doesn't seem like the government has the determination to improve the situation for the long term.


ks said...

i think alternating day driving will be a good solution to the traffic jam. developing more bus and subway lines is in order. but it is easier said than done. they are doing it already but not fast enough. controlling the number of cars on the road is imperatrive. this shouild take effect asap. as an outside we dont know the real politics behind the city planning and management. we can only lament about it.

IheartNY said...

i think an economic toll is in order. penalize drivers and use the money for more public tranportation.