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Chinese Gov't Urged to Address Urban Transport Problems
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The Chinese government must do more to tackle traffic jams, choking air pollution and other urban transport problems, the World Bank says in a report released in Beijing on Wednesday.


The report calls on the government to strengthen its role in urban transport, to provide policy directions and reward good practice.


The incentive structure of the municipal governments should be improved to ensure due attention to environmental quality, quality of urban life and capacity building, says the report.


The local People's Congress, or legislative bodies, should strengthen their monitoring of the performances of municipal governments, and their representation of the long-term interests of urban residents in the decision-making and policy-implementation processes.


The bank says the urban planning process should be reformed to include long-term urban land use and transport strategic planning and to interact with urban master planning.


A clear link between urban transport planning and financing should be established, through the adoption of capital improvement plans and long-term financial plans, it says.


Sustainable and transparent financing mechanisms should be developed, to correct mistakes and improve risk management, the report says.


A healthy and efficient public transport industry should be developed through industry reform, which is central to enhancing urban travel mobility.


With more cars on the roads, large cities in China are increasingly suffering from traffic jams and choking air, says the bank.


Related problems have also emerged, including urban sprawl and excessive farmland conversion, says the report titled "Building Institutions for Sustainable Urban Transport".


Municipal governments rely heavily on off-budget financing to build roads and consequently bear heavy financial liabilities, the report says.


The impacts of rapid motorization on energy security, fuel prices, and the greenhouse gas effect are "not only a national but also an international concern".


To deal with these problems effectively, the Chinese central government needs to re-define and strengthen its role in urban transport.


The report examines the changing nature of urban transport problems and the associated institutional issues in the broad context of urbanization and fiscal decentralization.


It concludes that various institutional weaknesses are at the core of urban transport problems in China.


Liu Zhi, senior infrastructure specialist with the bank and one of the two main authors, said the Chinese experience was unique as few countries had experienced such extraordinarily rapid pace of motorization.


No other country had ever seen the shift of 300 million to 400 million people from rural to urban life within one generation, Liu said.


More importantly, the rapid motorization coincided with the crucial period of decentralization that devolved a range of functional and fiscal responsibilities from the national to local governments, said Liu.


The municipal governments assumed primary responsibilities both functional and fiscal for urban transport, he said.


However the bank's report says, most are able to mobilize resources to expand the capacity of transport infrastructure, and the level of road investment over a short time are unmatched by most developing cities around the world.


However, heavy investment generally fails to yield sustainable outcomes, says the report


Various institutional weaknesses are obstructing knowledge and effective policy implementation.


Until recently, many cities accorded priority to their gross domestic product growth over more balanced, sustainable development, the report adds.


At the practical level, the urban master plan is inherently rigid and too inflexible to meet the rapidly growing demand for urban transport services.


On the other hand, the report says it is unconnected to the financing plan, and thus difficult to implement. The situation is further complicated by a lack of sustainable municipal financing mechanisms.


Cities have to rely on whatever means are available to deal with their pressing needs, often at the cost of the public's long-term interest, it says.


"Unfortunately, the checks and balances mechanisms have not been fully in place to ensure appropriate procedures for municipal decisions to take into consideration the interest of the majority of the urban residents."


Graham Smith, World Bank coordinator for the transport sector in China and the other main author of the report, said the challenge was enormous for both central and local governments.


The primary driving force of motorization -- the growth of household incomes -- was expected to remain strong in urban China, said Smith.


"The good news is that technological solutions exist for urban transport outcomes that are more sustainable," says the report.


As recent studies demonstrate, a mix of policies and technologies could help cities control overall fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, it says.


Those include energy-efficient vehicle technologies, clean fuels, compact city development, better public transport services, and higher taxation on fuel.


(Xinhua News Agency June 15, 2006)

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