Shanghai’s car plate policy shows better governance
Published: Apr 09, 2015 07:38 PM
Starting April 15, vehicles with non-local license plates are prohibited from driving Shanghai's downtown expressways during expanded rush hour times. Since this updated policy was announced, there have been few complaints made in any social media, nor any criticisms of the Shanghai government about their approach to the policy implementation. On the contrary, what our city is seeing is a categorical understanding, acceptance and - most importantly, support - from the general public.

The notorious Shanghai license plate, often jokingly referred to as "the most expensive piece of metal in the world," costs slightly less than 80,000 yuan ($12,903). Compared with non-local plates, which usually only cost several hundred or thousand yuan, a Shanghai plate is indeed a status of privilege. But the privileged are still subject to the same restrictive bidding system to obtain the plates as anyone, making it all the more precious.

Yet far from creating bitter contention among local drivers, the smooth implementation of the new plate policy - a prolonged limitation of weekday drive-times from 7 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 7 pm - by city administrators is to be entirely credited for properly preparing the public. A brief overview of the timeline reveals how it was so expediently executed.

On January 24, during Shanghai's "two sessions" (Shanghai Municipal People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Shanghai Committee), an official from the municipal transportation department announced to the public that, in order to help relieve heavy traffic congestion in the downtown areas, "new policies will be introduced."

Three days later, the same department was quoted by the media as saying that detailed regulations "had been worked out" and submitted to supervisors pending approval. On February 27, the public was informed that the new policy would take effect in the second quarter. By this point, specific details of the expressway rush hour ban extension had been elucidated to local media.

When the WeChat and Weibo accounts of Shanghai Fabu (the official social media of the municipal government), formally announced on April 1 that the new policy would take effect on April 15, the public might have considered it an April Fool's joke: how could our municipal government operate so swiftly? But it was no joke.

At the same time, a detailed cash flow of the monies collected from the 2014 license plate auction was made available, which revealed that rather than just going back into government coffers as we initially might have expected, the funds were injected directly into Shanghai's public transportation system.

From this timeline, I think it's safe to conclude that local authorities have done right by the public, which, given past examples of similar policies enacted by Shanghai's governmental counterparts in Shenzhen and Beijing, I concede I initially did not place much faith in.

In those instances, what the country witnessed was the classic "cliché style" policy implementation, whereby the public is only fed rumors spread by ministerial mouthpieces as in the dark as we are, leaving them scrambling to verify the new policies yet never quite clarifying nor confirming nor denying the rumors until, suddenly, a new policy comes into effect and we the public are left in a state of utter confusion and chaos about what exactly the new laws are.

The public should never be blamed for being too demanding of their local governments, whom should always be thinking of ways to improve not just society but their methods of governance.

We have been let down by them far too often, and the reprehensible state of many of China's major cities is an indication that the country still has a long way to go to being considered "developed" rather than just developing.

But right now I have never been more proud of Shanghai and its leaders, whom have demonstrated a clear commitment to finding feasible solutions to improving city life while also working at a hyper-efficient speed to implement those solutions.

I am reminded of a slogan from the World Expo 2010 Shanghai: "Better City, Better Life." But I'd like to propose amending this philosophy with one more proviso - Better Governance, which guarantees the people a more harmonious society.

But let's not rest on our laurels. Let us return to Shanghai's dire transportation issues, for the new plate policy is only a temporary fix to a long-term problem. Our city has been ranked one of the most congested cities in the world, and it's time for the local government to heed the public's call for more public transport.