Drivers of small-engine cars can zip around Beijing's swankiest road and the two busiest expressways after a long-standing ban was lifted over 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 1 liter from traveling on Chang'an Avenue as well as the inside lanes of the Second Ring Road and the Third Ring Road.
The only restriction is that the small cars cannot use the inside lane of Chang'an Avenue from 7 AM to 8 PM as the bureau hopes to avert overcrowding on the busy road which already has a traffic flow of 7,000 vehicles per hour on average.
"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 go through Chang'an Avenue but that we are finally treated on bar with big-car drivers."
Many Chinese cities have restrictions on small-engine cars using their main avenues, with the official explanation being their heavy emission or that the slow-moving cars hinder 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 Avenue ban in 1998 and extended it to the inside lanes of the Second Ring and Third Ring roads a year later.
"These restrictive policies had some validity when they were made, because some small vehicles did have problems in terms of 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 Avenue and the ring roads on the weekend.
Beijing's policy shift follows the central government's requirement to foster small cars that consume less oil and meet environment-protection standards.
(China Daily April 3, 2006)