A controversial proposal to ban half of Beijing's vehicles from the roads on alternate days during the winter would only be a stopgap measure, experts have warned.
No decision has yet been made on whether to permanently adopt the odd-even car ban, which would apply each year during the city's "winter heating season" from Nov 15 to March 15, Li Shixiang, Beijing's executive vice-mayor, told deputies of the People's Congress of Beijing last week.
Previously implemented during international events such as the 2008 Olympics, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2014 and on other heavily polluted days, the ban is still under discussion and it is not yet known if the policy will be applied in time for next winter, Rong Jun, spokesman of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, told a news conference on Wednesday.
"Automobiles produce a lot of emissions to the detriment of residents' health and the problem is compounded in winter when the municipality's central heating systems are switched on. We have to choose between heating fueled by coal and the use of cars," Rong said.
Under current traffic rules, a fifth of the city's vehicles are obliged to be off the roads each weekday based on their license plate number, else face a penalty.
Rong said Beijing had only enforced the full odd-even car ban six times since its first use in 2008.
According to the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, vehicle emissions were responsible for 31 per cent of the city's smog.
Previous bans successfully reduced airborne pollutants by 30 per cent and lowered PM2.5, particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 microns that is hazardous to human health, by 20 to 25 per cent, said Cheng Shuiyuan, professor in environmental and energy engineering at Beijing University of Technology.
Yet some transport experts described the ban as merely a stopgap measure and have called for other solutions to be found.
Chen Yanyan, a professor in transport at Beijing University of Technology, said traffic congestion is a common problem in big cities all over the world, but Beijing can learn from some other cities for better management.
"For example, in San Francisco, car owners can reserve parking spaces in advance or find out about parking conditions in central areas through an intelligent system, so they will not drive into the city if there is no space, which reduces traffic congestion."
Yang Guangwu, chief engineer of the Beijing Major Projects Construction Headquarters Office, said the capacity of the city's public transport system had been enhanced as more subway lines were opened.
The aim is for residents to be able to find a subway station within 750 metres of their homes or offices by the end of the decade, according to Huang Yan, director of Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning.
"By 2021, the city will have 29 subway lines and 999 km of track, 80 per cent more than its current length," Yang said. "It is more environmentally-friendly, convenient and efficient to take the subway than drive a car."
Capital to increase parking fees to relieve clogged roads
Beijing will significantly increase fees for roadside parking in its central areas to ease vehicle congestion, traffic authorities said on Wednesday.
With more than 5 million motor vehicles, Beijing is one of the most congested cities in China. In recent years, officials and experts have called for increased parking fees in central areas todis courage the use of cars.
Rong Jun, spokesman of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, did not elaborate on how much the parking fees will be raised this year.
Roadside parking fees set by the Beijing municipal government differ across the city. In downtown areas within the Third Ring road and areas such as the Central Business District, the roadside parking fee is 35 yuan ($5.30) per day, according to Beijing Parking Management.
Parking companies can charge 10 yuan or more per hour to park on the roadside in central areas, according to a report in Beijing Times.
Zhang Jiandong, deputy mayor of Beijing, said this week that Beijing will use economic measures to reduce the use of private cars, including increased parking fees.
To ease traffic congestion, authorities will intensify management of parking in central areas and launch special campaigns to crack down on illegal parking.
Beijing will reduce the number of parking spaces on roads in areas with heavy traffic such as shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment venues to discourage people from using cars, said Li Shaoming, deputy director of the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau.
The city will coordinate with companies or institutions near residential areas or hospitals so that people other than their employees can use dormant parking spaces, he said.
Chen Yanyan, a professor of transportation at Beijing University of Technology, said measures such as increased parking fees can reduce traffic congestion in the short term. The move to end the long run, however, the best solution is to further improve public transportation, she said.
"Intensifying management and supervision is very important for checking on irregularities such as illegal parking," she said.
Wang Xiaodong and Zheng Jinran contributed to this story.