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Congestion Plagued Beijing to Subsidize Public Transport
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The municipal government of Beijing has earmarked four billion yuan (US$ 500 million) to boost public transport next year in a bid to ease traffic congestion in the city with 2.8 million motor vehicles, including two million private cars.

Part of the fund will be used to bring down the fares of air-conditioned buses, said Mayor Wang Qishan.

Hundreds of air-conditioned buses are in service in Beijing, but some have empty seats even in peak hours because the minimum fare is two yuan (US$ 0.25), at least double the fare on buses without air-conditioning.

Many commuters prefer non-air-conditioned buses, because in the most economical case, they can take up to 140 rides a month for 40 yuan (US$ 5).

As a result, overcrowded buses with more passengers clinging to the doors attempting to squeeze aboard sometimes block the road and bring the rush-hour traffic to a standstill.

"We'll have to make air-conditioned buses more affordable and divert passengers from non-air-conditioned buses to speed up the traffic," Wang said at a Beijing-Hong Kong economic cooperation symposium that opened Wednesday in Hong Kong.

By speeding up public transport, the municipal authority hopes more private car owners stop driving and take buses instead.

Beijing has reserved a special lane for buses on most downtown roads and is considering more express lanes on arteries linking the city center and high-density residential areas in the outer areas in the next two to three years.

By 2010, the government hopes 40 percent of Beijingers choose public transport as their primary means of transportation, up from 28 percent reported in 2005.

The city is also working to expand its urban rail network, which will extend 270 kilometers and carry 25 to 30 percent of commuters by 2010.

Road traffic was surprisingly easy even in the busiest areas when Beijing imposed a six-day ban on at least 490,000 government vehicles and advised private drivers to take buses to make way for a summit meeting between Chinese and African leaders early this month. But congestion resumed on Nov. 7, the day the ban ended.

Urban road transport has reached a crisis point in Beijing, with 90 percent of roads operating at full capacity and little room for expansion, according to a recent survey by the city's road traffic management bureau.

An additional 320,000 motor vehicles hit Beijing's roads in the first 10 months of this year, it said. Of the 15 million urban residents, 4.13 million have driving licenses.

The municipal authority forecast in 1993 that it would have two million cars by 2010, but that target was met in August 2003.

(Xinhua News Agency November 16, 2006)

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