China’s Latest Plug-in Car Perk: Exemption From Tough Odd/Even Day Car Restrictions in Beijing

Imagine the scenario: you live in one of the world’s largest cities — and you’ve worked hard to save up the money to buy yourself a brand-new car. The only problem? Due to heavy pollution levels in your city, you’re banned from driving in the rush hour every other day.

Beijing has a major pollution problem -- and electric cars could help.

Beijing has a major pollution problem — and electric cars could help. Photo by Flickr User David Barrie, reproduced under By-SA-2.0]

While that might sound like the nightmare scenario of some post-apocalyptic film, that’s been the reality for more than 12 million Beijing residents who live in work in China’s massive capital city since 2008, when the Chinese Government implemented a law alternating which cars could be driven in the rush hour and which could not, determined by their odd or even license plate numbers.

Except that is, if you happen to own an electric car.

As The Wall Street Journal (via GreenCarReprots) details, the city of Beijing has just changed its 7-year old odd/even alternate day ban on rush-hour travel to exempt anyone with a 100 percent electric car.

The exemption, which came into effect on Monday, will run until April 10 next year, and is the latest in a long line of perks offered to the growing affluent middle class in an attempt to encourage them to ditch high-powered gas-guzzling models for more efficient electric ones.

Currently, cars account for around one quarter of Beijing’s air quality measure of PM2.5 –particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and known to be particularly hazardous to humans — and the Chinese authorities are fighting what seems like an uphill battle to convince residents to switch away from fossil-fuelled vehicles.

For the first four months of this year, Beijing has recorded less than 5,500 applications for licence plates reserved for electric and other so-called ‘clean-energy’ vehicles. That’s out of a total of more than 10,000 made available to the population by the Chinese Government for the city of Beijing, and highlights some of the problems facing automakers like Tesla Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen as they introduce electric vehicle models to the Chinese marketplace.

Meanwhile, more than 6.2 residents in the city applied through a lottery system for license plates to operate gasoline-powered vehicles, only 36,757 of which were actually issued. This not only demonstrates how tough it is for citizens to obtain a license plate for an internal combustion engine vehicle but how easy it is to obtain a license plate for an electric car.

More than 6.2 residents in the city applied through a lottery system for license plates to operate gasoline-powered vehicles, only 36,757 of which were actually issued

Hoping that residents who are currently fed-up with the gasoline car lottery system and odd/even travel bans, the city of Beijing is hopeful that the new plug-in car perk will encourage more people out of petrol and into electric cars.

But as local journalist Michael Bao told The WallStreet Journal, residents of Beijing are facing the same worries as would-be plug-in owners elsewhere in the world: finding a place to charge.

Cars like this Chinese-variant on the Nissan LEAF could help -- but few people are buying them.

Cars like this Chinese-variant on the Nissan LEAF (the Dongfeng e30) could help — but few people are buying them.

“It’s all about charging,” he told the newspaper. “It’s too hard to find a public charging station near my home or company. It’s also too hard to get a private parking lot on which I can place a charging pillar.”

In other words, while plug-in car permits are far easier to obtain and the new electric car exemption from Beijing’s strict rush-hour travel rules means that at least some residents will no doubt make the switch, not everyone will be able to. Like city-dwellers in other countries, only those wealthy enough to own their own parking space or home will be able to benefit from the plug-in perks.

Until China decides to execute a concerted effort on public electric car charging — and indeed offer perks on parking — China’s electric car revolution is likely to take a while to build up any momentum.

But there’s one more problem to compound this particular issue. Unlike Norway’s electric car incentives — where electric cars can drive in bus lanes and help improve traffic flow and therefore lower congestion, allowing electric cars onto Beijing’s roads without any restriction will do the opposite: it could actually increase the number of vehicles on the road, increasing congestion and congestion-related pollution.

In a country whose primary focus is reducing air pollution, that could be a very dangerous move indeed. And while we’re supporters of cleaner, greener electric cars and other zero-emission vehicles, we can’t help but think a better solution would involve more investment in public transport — as well as tackling the age-old notion that a car is a status symbol.

If offered alongside improved mass transit and encouragement of more multi-modal transportation systems, Beijing’s new plug-in perks could make a big difference. Without them, Beijing will remain as gridlocked as ever.

[Featured Image: ‘Beijing’ by Flickr User Clay Gilliland, reproduced under By-SA-2.0


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