Drivers of small-engine cars can zip around Beijing's swankiest road and the two busiest expressways after a eight-year ban was lifted at the weekend.
The Beijing Traffic Management Bureau issued a decree on Saturday scrapping the rule that forbade cars with an engine displacement of less than one liter from traveling on Chang'an Boulevard as well as the inside lanes of the Second and Third Ring Roads.
The only restriction is that small cars cannot use the inside lane of Chang'an Boulevard from 7 AM to 8 PM as the bureau wishes to avert further overcrowding on the road, which already has an average traffic flow of 7,000 vehicles per hour.
"I'm happy about the change," said Zhu Chuanxin, who lives in the southern suburbs of Beijing and drives a 0.8-liter Alto.
"The point is not how often we use Chang'an Boulevard but that we are finally treated on a par with big-car drivers," he added.
Many Chinese cities have restrictions on small-engine cars using their main avenues with the explanation that they have heavy emissions or that slow-moving cars hinder other traffic. But there have also been complaints that such bans are for image-conscious local officials to show off big, gleaming vehicles on the main thoroughfares.
Beijing imposed the Chang'an Boulevard ban in 1998 and extended it to the inside lanes of the Second and Third Ring Roads a year later.
"These restrictive policies had some validity when they were made, because some smaller vehicles did have problems in terms of their emissions and technical reliability," said Zhao Ying, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"But with the improvement of automobile technologies the reasons no longer exist," he said.
Beijing removed dozens of warning signs for small cars along Chang'an Boulevard and the ring roads on the weekend.
The policy shift follows the central government's requirement for people to use smaller cars as they consume less oil and meet environment-protection standards.
(China Daily April 3, 2006)