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Beijing car owners squeal over traffic restrictions
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The following editorial was printed in the Economic Observer on October 13

Starting October 13 all private cars in Beijing have been banned from the roads one day per week according to a rota based on license plate numbers.

Since the municipal government issued the ruling last month, public debate has been fierce. Supporters and opponents are entrenched in their positions and there has been no hint from the government that it intends to back down.

We need to examine whether the new policy was enacted fairly, legally and according to proper procedures. It would be irresponsible to keep silent simply because the government is sticking to its position.

The government’s view is that the new policy will reduce the impact of exhaust emissions on air quality and maintain the smooth flow of traffic.

According to the national Law on Road Traffic Safety, and Beijing pollution air regulations, the government has the rights to limit the number of motor vehicles on the roads to protect air quality and the free flow of traffic.

The new ruling seems well-grounded in law, but we believe such powers were intended for use in emergency situations only, and questions must be asked as to whether the government sidestepped the legislative process when it issued the ruling.

Private cars are personal assets. In accordance with the Property Law, owners have rights of possession, use and disposal of their private assets. By limiting the use of private cars, has the Beijing municipal authority infringed private property rights?

Officials from Beijing Traffic Bureau said the ruling was intended to improve public health and traffic management. That seems to be in line with public opinion, but such good intentions should not be at the expense of depriving citizens of their property rights.

By applying the same logic – sacrifice for the good of the majority – we could limit the days one could occupy his or her own home.

But our major objection is that the new ruling was introduced without proper debate and legislation. The Beijing local authorities have exceeded their administrative powers by failing to submit their proposal to either the National People's Congress or the local legislative council.

The officials' motives deserve praise, but it is the government's responsibility to effectively manage a city to provide a better living environment for its citizens. The problems of congestion and traffic management in Beijing are not caused by private cars alone. Other cities have far more cars on the road than in Beijing, yet traffic is less congested. One contributing factor is the delay in providing an efficient public transportation system.

We call for the new traffic ruling to be suspended until the above mentioned issues are addressed.

(China.org.cn translated by Maverick Chen, October 14, 2008)

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