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There are only enough parking spaces for every second car in the Chinese capital, Beijing. The city has five million vehicles and just 2.48 million parking spaces.
Some people in Beijing speak of a “parking crisis” in the city. “When I'm considering going anywhere by car I first ask myself if I'll be able to find a parking spot,” says 32-year-old Zhang Li. “I often leave my car at home and take the metro.”
The situation is at its worst in Beijing's shopping centres where multi-storey car parks often have lines of vehicles waiting outside.
Along with rising standards of living in China comes the desire to own a car. But the dream of mobility often ends in a traffic jam for most of Beijing's 20 million inhabitants. There were about three million vehicles in the city at the time of the 2008 Olympics. Today that number is five million.
Beijing's streets and roads are choked with lines of cars. In 2010 alone, 700 000 cars were added to the register, causing Beijing's authorities to put the brakes on new vehicles. Last year the number of new cars was limited to 240 000. Since then 20 000 number plates have been distributed by lottery every month.
“It should take me only five to 10 minutes to drive the four kilometres to work,” says Zhang. But in Beijing's morning rush-hour traffic the trip can take up to an hour “when it's really bad.”
R262 000 FOR A PARKING
Her office does supply parking to employees but when she returns home Zhang has to search for a place to leave her car.
“Parking places in our garage are expensive and cost 200 000 Yuan to buy.” That's the equivalent of R262 000 and far more than Zhang's car cost. “A parking place at my parents' costs 300 000 Yuan even though they live in a suburb outside the city.”
Many of Beijing's older districts have nowhere to park cars because in the past hardly any families owned a vehicle. Today, drivers have to park their cars in their courtyards. It's common for neighbours to fight over parking spaces.
But even if there was more space to park, most drivers would still opt for footpaths as parking fees are very high. Charges in Beijing's busy areas have doubled to 10 Yuan (R12.50) for the first 60 minutes. That increases to 15 Yuan for every hour after that.
A special form of annoyance in Beijing are pseudo parking attendants who demand a fee in areas where there are no official parking fees. They make a considerable amount of money.
“Fake parking places look almost identical to the real thing. So much so that even city officials can hardly tell them apart,” wrote one journalist in the Beijing Times.
A new law is being planned that will introduce a parking concept for the city.
In many cases it's impossible to tell where parking is not allowed, leaving drivers vulnerable to traffic police distributing fines. A parking ticket costs R300 plus two points in China's traffic violation register. A maximum of 12 points a year are allowed before a driving license is withdrawn.
High land prices and Beijing's construction boom make it difficult to supply enough parking, according to Cui Dongshu, Deputy General Secretary of China's Motoring Association. “Beijing's car market is developing too fast.”
IS THERE A SOLUTION?
Gu Yuanli, a professor at Jiaotong University, says the Chinese capital is not equipped to deal with modern demands on the city's road network. “The old city plans did not take account of Beijing's fast economic development.”
Gu believes there is only one solution: “We must encourage people to take public transport more often,” he says. He's in favour of expanding Beijing's metro and bus networks and would like to see parking facilities provided at stops in the suburbs where drivers could then board public transport.
Until now there has been only slow progress in that direction but there is hope: by the end of last year the number of Beijing residents going to work by public transport increased from 39.7 to 42 per cent. -Sapa-dpa