Beijing motorists find alternative modes of transport for Olympics

July 18th, 2008 - 5:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, July 18 (Xinhua) With not even a month left for the Olympics, people of Beijing are shedding their four-wheelers for more convenient alternative modes of transport. To commute freely, Jiang Shengping finally learned to ride a bike. From July 20, Jiang will pedal through Beijing instead of driving her white Honda.

The city is driving half of its three million private vehicles off the roads to ease traffic for the Games. Cars will be banned from the roads on alternate days, according to the odd or even number of their licence plates, from July 20 to Sept 20.

Taking advantage of China’s economic boom and relaxed car ownership rules, consumers like Jiang snapped up autos in one of the biggest car-buying bonanzas ever, clogging Beijing’s streets and exacerbating the pollution.

“I had always wanted to learn to ride a bicycle, but there was never enough incentives,” says Jiang, who works for a government organisation. “Riding a bike is not only environment friendly, but also good exercise.”

Beijing expects to see up to 50,000 bikes for rent before the Olympics, with 200 bike-rental venues all over the city to make it easier for those who need a bike between the subways stations and their destinations.

For most, the public transport will be their main alternative. According to the Transportation Bureau of Beijing, more than four million people will switch from driving to taking the public transport during the two-month restriction period.

Zhao Zeng, who used to drive an hour a day to work, is taking the subway.

“It’s not so inconvenient as I thought to take the subway,” Zhao says. “Actually I save about 10 minutes every day and the money to buy fuel.”

Zhao, like millions of motorists in Beijing, became dependent on the car.

“The two-month restriction is a chance for us drivers to realise that we can free ourselves from cars.”

Beijing has invested 24 billion yuan to build new subway lines and new roads for the Olympic Games, capable of carrying 1.1 million people a day, according to the Transportation Bureau.

The bureau says the city’s buses could carry 15 million passengers each day and taxis 2.5 million.

Some motorists are considering hiring a car or car pooling during the restriction period.

According to a survey conducted by the Beijing Social Facts and Public Opinion Survey Centre, 94 percent out of more than 1,000 respondents said they supported the restrictions on cars.

The government is also encouraging people to work flexible hours or work from home if possible.

Working hours for companies will be set from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Public institutions will begin work at 9.30 a.m., one hour later than normal. Shopping malls will open no earlier than 10 a.m. and stay open longer, until 10 p.m. or even later.

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