HITTING THE BRAKES
Tianjin to curb private car ownership with lottery
A new measure by Tianjin to restrict the number of new car license plates on Monday created a buying spree by residents eager to purchase cars at the last minute.
In an attempt to reduce traffic jams and air pollution, the city imposed a quota on new car plates starting on Monday, requiring buyers to take part in a lottery or bid at auction to win a plate, according to a notice issued by the city government on Sunday at 7 pm.
Cars purchased before 12 am on Monday would be issued license plates, the notice said, leaving only five hours for residents to obtain the last freely issued plates.
He Shuang, a salesperson at an Audi dealership in Tianjin, said the policy increased the store’s sales volume tenfold between 7 pm and midnight.
“Most consumers paid 30,000 yuan ($4,940) more in order to get cars in time,” she said.
Xue Kun, a manager at a used car market in Tianjin, said hectic purchasing of cars started around 6 pm when residents heard there was a possibility of the restriction.
The market, which accounts for half of all car transactions in Tianjin, sold more than 800 cars on Sunday, four times its usual trading volume.
When the new measure was confirmed on Sunday, local resident Zhang Zhi rushed to a dealership at Tianjin Airport Economic Area and bought a car before they sold out.
“You had only three to five minutes to consider what type of car and what color to buy before they sold out,” Zhang said.
A salesperson in another dealership who declined to give his name said, “The government is giving too little time for residents to adapt to the new policy.”
Ding Limin, a professor of traffic engineering management with the People’s Public Security University of China, said if more time was given, too many cars would be sold, resulting in the opposite of the city’s drive to curb car ownership.
Ding said the buying frenzy reflected a lack of understanding of car use.
Private automobile ownership, in the view of many Chinese, represents a person’s social status, Ding said.
“This results in the unnecessary use of vehicles,” he said.
Ding said his research found that car owners in Tokyo use their vehicles only one-tenth of the time as those in Beijing.
Unnecessary car use is the main cause of traffic jams and air pollution, he said.
“This needs a transformation of people’s reasons for using cars and for them to bear more social responsibility,” he said.
Tianjin will also follow Beijing in adopting a traffic restriction scheme, which blocks cars from use depending on the last digit of their license plates, with two numbers banned each workday, said Miao Hongwei, head of the city’s traffic management bureau, as quoted by Xinhua News Agency on Sunday.
The ban, which will take effect on March 1, is expected to take one-fifth of the city’s private cars off the roads on workdays.
The city will also ban vehicles with non-local plates from driving within the city’s outer ring road during morning and evening rush hours on workdays, Miao said.
According to Xinhua, Tianjin had 2.36 million registered motor vehicles by 2012, and the average driving speed on downtown roads during rush hours dropped to 19.5 km/h in 2011.
A used car market in Tianjin extended its operating hours on Sunday to process car ownership transfers after the local authorities announced restrictions on car purchases.