Good news for China cars, metro

August 14, 2008

Passengers crowd into a train inside a station of the Subway Line Number 1 in Beijing July 22,2008. July 21 marked the first working day of emergency traffic curbs that aim to take half of all cars off the road by utilising an odd-even number plate system. Streets were noticeably quieter, but still busy during the morning rush hour. REUTERS/Jason Lee (CHINA) (BEIJING OLYMPICS 2008 PREVIEW)For anyone with a ‘green heart’ there was plenty of good news on the front page of the China Daily this morning, an English-language newspaper read by a myriad of expatriates and, especially during the Olympics, tens of thousands of journalists from around the world.
“Tax on big cars raised to save fuel,” read the page one headline over a story about the Chinese government’s laudable decision to double the “consumption tax” on heavy cars with engines larger than 4 litres to 40 percent while slashing the tax on cars with engines smaller than 1 litre to 1 percent from 3 percent.
In Germany, where I live, the government has been talking about moves like that for about two years now with a tortured drawn-out debate. In China — poof! — it’s decided and done.
Another bit of good news at the bottom of page one caught my eye as well and made me wish more European countries had this kind of foresight: “Cut in public transport fare to stay” read the headline over a story about plans to permanently extend a steep cut in metro fares to 2 yuan (30 U.S. cents) from 3 yuan previously.

The fares on the city’s amazingly clean and efficient metro were “temporarily” lowered in October to cut pollution and promote mass transit — that simple act raised the percentage of commuters who use mass transit to 45 percent from 35 percent and took cars off the roads.  
In Germany and elsewhere, the public transportation fares go in only one direction — up. 

China obviously has a lot of greenhouse gas issues to resolve, but it’s nevertheless encouraging to see truly aggressive measures like those to punish the fat-cat cars and offer incentives to users of public transport.

Can other countries learn from China?

(Erik Kirschbaum, a Reuters correspondent based in Berlin, is on assignment in Beijing)

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