Monday, September 1, 2008
Driving the Discussion
During the Olympics Beijing experienced unprecedented weather -- granted the first few days were as critics like myself expected -- swampy-looking skies.
But after heavy rains, the skies cleared up and produced some fantastic weather for most of the Games.
Local residents were also thrilled to see blue skies and find out the air in the city was the cleanest it has been in 10 years.
That was partly thanks to the serious enforcement of taking half the cars off the roads from July 20-September 20.
And now that the Games are over, many Beijingers are breathing easier and want to keep the sky as clean as possible. They are debating online whether the strict car ban should continue after the Paralympics are over.
Some 400,000 weighed in on an online discussion, with nearly half suggesting the car ban should be made permanent, while those who opposed it were the frustrated car owners.
"Only after the government makes great progress in improving public transportation should we discuss whether to keep the restrictions. I love blue skies very much. But I had to drive a car because I could not stand being packed in a bus for six hours a day," said an anonymous netizen.
An op-ed in an English-language newspaper suggests if the ban was made permanent, it would not help the situation, but exacerbate it because car owners would probably buy a second car so that they could drive everyday. Some even bought another car just before the Olympics because they couldn't stand the thought of taking public transit.
The article says up to 100 million households in China can afford a car, but only 20 million have actually bought one.
But there isn't much of a push for car buyers to look into purchasing low-emission cars or hybrids. So far I've only seen one or two Toyota Prius on Beijing roads, but many SUVs and even the odd Hummer.
The government should really push for car companies to create more low-emissions vehicles, and impose more taxes on SUVs and other gas guzzlers.
There is also the suggestion of making car drivers pay tolls when entering the city centre, and raising parking fees. Right now it's only a few yuan per hour, barely $1 an hour.
So the government has many options -- a mixture of all those measures would be greatly appreciated. The long-term effects are too beneficial to ignore.