Study finds driving restriction policy in Beijing has short-term benefits, but almost half of regulated car owners break the rules
7 October 2013
A case study of the impact of a driving restriction policy implemented in Beijing prior to the 2008 Olympics found short-term benefits, but also a pattern of rule-breaking and loss of those benefits over time, as residents adapted by changing travel times; buying a second car with a different license plate; or simply violating the rules.
In an attempt to reduce congestion and pollution in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, Beijing imposed rules barring cars from the central city based on license plate number. The one-day-a-week driving restriction scheme was expected to take 20 percent of cars off the road every weekday. These temporary restrictions were followed by similar restrictions that remained in place after the Olympics were over.
The study, published by Environment for Development (EfD) and Resources for the Future (RFF), used household survey and travel diary data to analyze the short-term effect of the driving restriction policy on individual mode choice. The data also allowed the identification of the demographic groups more likely to break the rules.
The analysis revealed that the restriction policy in Beijing does not have a significant influence on individual driving choices, as compared with its influence on public transit. Rule-breaking behavior is constant and pervasive; 47.8% of the regulated car owners didn’t follow the rules and drove “illegally” to their destinations. On average, car owners who traveled during peak hours or for work trips, and those whose destinations were farther away from the city center or subway stations, were more likely to break the rules.
Put in place together, the driving restrictions and the license plate policy seem to have been effective in curbing air pollution and traffic congestion, according to Beijing Municipal Commission of Transportation. Yet, it has been reported that these command-and-control restrictions policies have driven license plate prices record high and increased demand, thus creating more problems, including heralding the birth of new black market.
In our view, these command-and-control policies can only alleviate the negative externalities generated by travel demand for a very short period of time, but they are unable to attack the root causes. In the long run, the driving restriction policy or license plate lottery policy can hardly constitute the silver bullet necessary to reduce traffic congestion or air pollution. Beijing probably needs more market-oriented transportation policies and a more comprehensive policy package (e.g., a combination of congestion tolls, expansion of the subway system, parking fees, fuel taxes, high- speed transit facilities, etc.) to relieve this city from these negative externalities.—Wang et al.
Lanlan Wang, Jintao Xu, Xinye Zheng, Ping Qin (2013) Will a Driving Restriction Policy Reduce Car Trips? (RFF Discussion Paper EfD 13-11)
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