Congestion fee needs careful deliberation

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-6-1 19:33:08

Editor's Note:

Speculation over Beijing's plans for congestion charges has been going on for quite some time. Now it has been announced that a draft plan has been completed, it seems the policy will one day arrive for real. However, it has triggered huge controversy among the public. The Global Times has collected three pieces on the matter.

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Car charge must be transparent

According to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau and Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, the city has completed a draft policy and technical plan for congestion charges. Beijing will finalize how to carry them out after studying on Singapore, where drivers are charged every time they cross into a set zone, and London, where motorists are charged based on their frequency of entering congestion charge areas.

But before the plan is formally implemented, we have some suggestions for Beijing's policymakers.

If the congestion charge is a step that must be taken at some point, then serious communication with Beijing's citizens is needed. In terms of people's concerns and dissatisfactions, authorities should explain first, rather than simply making any decision only based on evaluation.

Policymakers should also fully realize that traffic situation in Beijing is different from that in New York, London and Singapore. Once the fee is introduced, middle-class drivers will avoid the city's core districts and roads. Ordinary people who need to send their kids to school every day will be directly influenced. Therefore, when making the plan, policymakers ought to be careful not to aggravate social stratification, and not to make some roads exclusive for officials or the rich.

The only aim of the plan must be easing traffic congestion during rush hours. Therefore, all the money that is to be charged must be contributed to the development of the city's traffic systems. That said, more detailed projects should be made, in which where the money goes must be transparent to the public.

And if the fee is to be charged, driving restrictions based on license plate numbers should be canceled. Otherwise, pressure from both the restrictions and the congestion charge will make normal families struggle.

It is never an easy task for authorities to manage a megacity's core area. Such difficulties should be explained to citizens, and the latter should also join the discussions as well as actions to resolve the puzzle. As long as the government sincerely communicates with the public, understanding and consensus can be reached to some extent.

All in all, policymakers must let people know that the plan is made for all Beijing residents' common interests. They must show the citizens the long-term benefits such a policy has brought to foreign cities, and they must do it before the draft is set in stone.

Global Times

Solution requires compromise

Traffic jams are a problem in every big city, especially in Beijing. People who live in the city are used to it, but those who only come occasionally tend to find it shocking. A dozen kilometers per hour is really not the regular speed for cars, but in Beijing, it is very normal.

It should be made clear first that the reason for Beijing's traffic jams is disordered urban development and incompetent traffic management. After the problem has accumulated for years, it gets increasingly hard to be uprooted. Beijing has tried a series of measures, including rules to curb the purchase and the use of vehicles, to reduce traffic pressure. But they cannot completely solve the problem.

From the experience of foreign cities, a congestion charge is the only effective way. Singapore, London, and Stockholm have all proved its efficiency. By charging fees in downtown and other districts with heavy traffic, vehicles have been largely cut down. The money can be used for building the city's traffic system. It is basically welfare for the poor who do not pay the fee.

Introducing the congestion charge means that people who value time will pay more money, and those who do not care about spending more time will get the "subsidy" of an improved traffic system for free. Such policy accords with the basic principles of market economy, and is hence better than other mandatory restrictions.

The maximization of common interests is bound to be a result of compromises. Those who enjoy greater rights must shoulder more responsibilities. This is the starting point when we face the issue.

If we fear pressure that comes from all directions, government and management departments will become a target of populism, while society will also end up in chaos. By then, every single one of us will turn into a victim.

Perhaps some think that charging congestion fees is unfair to poor drivers. Certain people might have to give up driving because of it. However, there is no absolute fairness in the world. For such public policy, only by charging a fee can we realize fairness. In that case, some will have to spend more money on the right to pass through certain districts, while others need to spend more time on public transportation. This is an exchange between time and money.

On that score, congestion charge policy is applicable.

Baidu Baijia

Changes will crowd public transport

Draft plans over congestion fees in Beijing have been made after learning from experiences in Singapore and London, according to related municipal departments.

For the moment, the policy is under further study and analysis. This initiative had been raised several times previously, and this time, Beijing seems pretty serious about carrying it out. 

Imposing congestion charges on vehicles entering some parts of the city during rush hours is considered an efficient measure, as proved in cities like London and Singapore.

However, in the current era when chauffeur-driven car-on-demand services are booming, once the congestion charging plan is carried out, the people who have to pay will be not only the owners of private cars, but also the ones calling for chauffeured cars.

The advantage of the chauffeur-driven car-on-demand service lies in that it can help reduce the transportation cost. However, once the congestion charges are put into practice, when we have to go through congestion charge zones, the drivers can choose not to take us, or we have to pay the congestion fee.

What if we don't want to spend the money?

There are other options like bicycles, subways and buses.

But so far, the carrying capacity of Beijing's current public transportation is limited. It is indeed crowded on buses during the rush hours, and it is even more packed on the subways.

If more people give up driving and turn to public transportation in the days to come, we will only hear more complaints about "how we lose our dignity" by squashing ourselves onto the buses and subways.

Moreover, given the fact that there is good weather and bad weather, bicycles cannot always be the solution.

Charging fees is a method we can adopt to alleviate congestion. However, city management requires more delicate policies and rules to completely solve the problem. Policymakers need to have a comprehensive perspective over the matter, and always keep up with the new changes in our society.

At least, policymakers ought to take people who do not even own a car into their consideration.

The Beijing News

Posted in: Viewpoint

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