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Beijing's vehicle population up 13% in first quarter
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With 1,300 vehicles coming onto the roads each day, Beijing has seen 120,000 cars added in the first three months of the year, the municipal Traffic Management Bureau said on Wednesday.

The new vehicles added in the first quarter is 13.34 percent more than in the same period of last year. About 81 percent of the new cars are privately owned.

With the auto population explosion, license plates starting with "L" will run out this month and the next set issued will start with "M". In Beijing, all plates begin with a letter of the English alphabet, running in order.

By opening day of the Olympics in August, there are expected to be 3.35 million vehicles on the road, of which 2 million will be cars. Some of the vehicles will have to stay off the roads at times during the games, and the owners will get compensation, said an official with the municipal government. The details of the plan are still being worked out.

Private cars will have to stay home every other day under an even-odd license plate numbering system. Taxis, buses and emergency vehicles will be exempt. Half of the many government vehicles in the city will also be off the road at any one time, but it is not known how many vehicles will be affected.

The ban is aimed at ensuring air quality during the sports event. The capital tested a traffic ban from August 17-20, removing 1.3 million or one third of the automobiles from its streets. According to an earlier report, this "dry run" reduced exhaust emissions by 40 percent each day.

Air quality also apparently improved during the four-day trial, with the pollution index standing between 93 and 95, down from 116 on the day prior to the test began. A level of 116 means that visibility would be significantly impaired.

Several cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, have considered congestion fees in recent years.

The capital of the eastern province of Jiangsu, Nanjing, is considering a peak-period congestion charge for vehicles. There are no plans for such a charge in Beijing in time for the Olympics.

(Xinhua News Agency April 3, 2008)

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