Temporary license plates causing traffic in Shanghai

By Yang Lan Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-27 18:23:01

Bidding for a Shanghai license plate has become one of the biggest headaches for the city's ever-growing number of new car owners. Just in January, a total of 187,533 bidders competed for 9,409 Shanghai plates, with a low success rate of only 5 percent.

But until a new car owner has succeeded in winning a local plate, they are required to use temporary plates for their vehicle. Yet Shanghai's Vehicle Management Bureau only allows new car owners three temporary plates. The first temporary plate is valid for 15 days, while the next two are valid for one month each. Following the expiration of the third temporary plate, new cars without an official Shanghai license plate are not allowed in the city.

Because of this strict policy, new car owners will often bid on a Shanghai license plate even before purchasing a vehicle, which is one of the reasons why the bidding system has become so intensely competitive. To alleviate this, Guo Youlong, a local member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Shanghai Committee, proposed during the fourth session of the 12th Shanghai Committee of the CPPCC hosted in Shanghai this week, that the validity of temporary plates be extended to 18 months and people who do not already own cars be banned from bidding for Shanghai plates.

Guo also proposed that those who fail to make a winning bid by the time their proposed 18-month temporary plate expires should be allowed to purchase a Shanghai plate directly at the average price of that month's auction. But I, as a new car owner who recently won a Shanghai license plate after many months of attempts, think both of Guo's proposals are unwise.

The vehicle management bureau designed Shanghai's unique bidding system so that the total number of registered cars in the municipality will be firmly regulated by the number of plates issued.

Even though Shanghai residents can bid for a Shanghai license plate without actually owning a car, the current policy requires all auction winners to install the plate on a vehicle within six months. Any unused plates will expire after that time.

Furthermore, temporary car plates are one of the leading causes of Shanghai's abominable traffic and road congestion. New drivers using temporary plates can not install them at the rear of the vehicle because they are just pieces of papers; they only must tape the paper inside the car's window. As such, it is very hard for traffic cameras to capture the plate number if the driver runs a red light or causes an accident.

New drivers are very aware of this loophole and often take advantage of it to break any traffic ordinance that inconveniences them, thereby causing an untold number of vehicular accidents and even fatalities. In 2014, there were 1,172 traffic accidents and 902 fatalities across Shanghai.

To reduce Shanghai's traffic congestion during peak drive times, authorities have regulated that from 7 am to 10 am and from 4 pm to 7 pm on workdays, cars with plates issued outside the municipality are not allowed to enter Shanghai's Inner Ring Road, the Middle Ring Road or major elevated highways. However, any vehicle with a temporary plate, regardless of being issued in Shanghai or outside, is allowed on the roads at any time.

Guo's proposals would basically eliminate the purpose of Shanghai's strict system, resulting in opening the metaphorical floodgates for Shanghai's roads, which have already been ranked as among the world's worst.

The statistical odds of winning the China Lottery are higher than winning a Shanghai license plate, which has jokingly been referred to as the world's most expensive piece of metal at an average of 84,572 yuan ($13,060).

Yet, 3.2 million households in the city own a car, according to Shanghai Municipal Transport Commission, which in addition to all the temporary plate drivers as well as drivers from outside provinces, are why our roads and expressways have been described by many as "apocalyptic."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai

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