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Beijing Overhauls Transportation System

The Chinese capital, known for its constant traffic congestion, is considering whether to charge tolls at areas usually crammed with cars.

It means that people would have to make a detour if they are not willing to pay fees to drive on what are now the most heavily traveled thoroughfares.

This idea has been written into white paper entitled, "The Essentials of Traffic Development in Beijing," which is currently under discussion.

However, the Municipal Communications Commission, which is in charge of drawing up the document, cautiously said this measure would only be put into operation after soliciting a variety of opinions.

"The Essentials of Traffic Development in Beijing" is a guideline for policy-makers planning the city's traffic network over the next 20 years, said the commission.

The document will be released to the public later this year.

The report projects Beijing investing 200 to 250 billion yuan (US$24 to 30 billion) between 2003 and 2010 in traffic construction and administration. Much of it will be used to enlarge the public transit network.

Several huge free parking lots beyond the Fourth and Fifth Ring roads will be built to encourage private car owners in the suburbs to take buses or subways to the downtown area.

The report paints a picture of a Beijing in 2010 in which most people can walk to a bus or subway station from their home in eight minutes and no one would have to walk more than 300 meters to change to another bus or subway route.

The total length of dedicated bus lanes will be increased to 300 to 350 kilometers by 2010 from the current 93 kilometers, says the draft.

Liu Qin, an engineer with the Traffic Management Bureau of Beijing, said the current distribution of bus routes leaves much to be desired.

"People cannot transfer freely between buses, subways and cars, and this is a major cause of the heavy burden on the traffic system," said Liu.

He said less than 30 percent of Beijing residents take buses or the subway to go out. This figure runs as high as 70 to 80 percent in developed countries.

"Developing the public transit system is a key to solving Beijing's traffic problems," said Liu.

The draft also highlights the construction of feeder roads connecting the existing concentric ring roads.

By 2010, 15 such stoplight-free express routes will be opened, making it much easier and faster for people to reach the downtown area from the Fifth, Fourth and Third Ring roads.

Five major north-south routes will also be built to ease the heavy traffic on the ring roads.

Under the plan, Beijing's traffic network will be able to handle 50 percent more cars by 2010. Some 3.8 million automobiles are expected to be on the capital city's roads by that time.

(China Daily April 7, 2004)

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