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Beijingers Split over Air Quality Exercise
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The four-day Beijing air quality exercise held earlier in the month was met with mixed reaction.

Diverse opinions were expressed by private car owners and public transport users.

During the four days, cars bearing odd and even license plates were allowed on the roads on alternate days to see what effect this would have on the reduction of air pollution.

The pictures show the east fourth ring road of Beijing. The left one was taken at 8:24 August 16 while the right one at 8:17 August 17.

According to a survey by Beijing Youth Daily, 61.9 percent of car owners opposed the practice in a long run while 78.2 percent of public transport users lauded it. The survey covered 3,000 residents.

On the positive side, the exercise between August 17 and 20, showed a reduction in haze and smoother traffic flow.

On the negative side, it has sparked further debate on the number of vehicles in the capital. About 1,000 new cars are registered every day in the city.

Car owners argued that smoother traffic comes at the expense of individuals' convenience.

"Does being a car owner mean you have limited rights? That would be cruel and inhuman," Wang Hongsheng, head of the Volkswagen Polo club in Beijing, said.

Fifty-seven percent of car owners shared his opinion.

Among non-drivers, 21.9 percent did not think the even-odd plate exercise was a reasonable, scientific way to gauge air quality.

"It is an arbitrary way of stripping car owners of their rights. They pay for the convenience," a respondent said.

Apart from the purchase price, the cost of owning a car in Beijing ranges from 10,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan (US$1,300 to US$3,900) a year, he said.

The survey also showed 36 percent of car owners were in favor of "public transport if managed well".

"People are fed up with the poor condition of buses, and the metro where people are packed like sardines," another said.

On options to improve traffic conditions, 49.9 percent said efficiency and lowering public transport fares should top the government's agenda instead of restricting car-ownership.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said more roads and bridges should be built to reduce congestion, 14.5 percent were in favor of more flexible parking fees in relation to localities, and 9.5 percent said the use of bicycles, and walking should be promoted.

(China Daily August 28, 2007)

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