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Shanghai to Continue Car Licence Plate Auctions

Local authorities seem resolute in sticking to the city's current car licence plate bidding system at least for the near future despite growing criticism and new pressure from the central government.

Officials meanwhile say they will continue trying to find a "legal, reasonable and sustainable" solution to tackle the thorny issue of finding a balance between the heavy traffic and the growing desire among the public to own cars.

"There won't be a sudden big change in the policy we have been carrying on for years," Zhou Ya, director of the policy and regulation department at the Shanghai Development and Reform Commission, told China Daily Tuesday.

Zhou was referring to the car licence plate auction practice Shanghai adopted in mid 1980s in order to curb traffic pressure. Through a monthly sealed-bid auction plus limited release of new plates, the municipal government tries to control the number of new cars on area roads.

"What we want is a well-balanced, comprehensive and sustainable way (to solve the problem)," Zhou said. "We don't think it's a good idea if we only focus on short-term returns while catering to a group of people at the cost of another larger group's interests.

"Even though we have some 10-plus per cent of local residents who will get cars, how about the rest who cannot afford a car purchase?"

While Shanghai's population has grown to close to 19 million, there are about 2 million vehicles on area streets, including about 200,000 owned by individuals.

Zhou's voice could be understood as the local authority's firm response to criticism from a senior official from the Ministry of Commerce, who was interviewed earlier by the China Central Television (CCTV), saying that Shanghai's practices go against China's new road safety law that came into effect in May.

The official said no government body except the domestic public security departments are entitled to issue car licence plates, dropping a hint that Shanghai's practices are illegal.

"The fact the practice has been in place for so many years just indicates its reasonableness," said Zhou. "Regarding whether it's illegal or not, we think we need a body that is entitled to give an authoritative judgment on the issue."

At yesterday's routine press briefing held by the city government, spokeswoman Jiao Yang said when being asked whether the city's car licence plate bidding violates the new road traffic safety law Shanghai will firmly implement related State laws and regulations as well as rules passed by the legislature.

She also stressed that the practice itself is carried out on a provisional basis and needs further testing and improvements.

(China Daily May 26, 2004)

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