BEIJING, CHINA: The half million new cars that have hit the road in Beijing over the past two years are causing severe congestion and air pollution, but the local government is convinced it can lick the problem in time for the 2008 Olympics.
The number of vehicles in the sprawling city had grown to 2.27 million, Liu Xiaoming of the Beijing Municipal Communications Commission told a news conference on Friday.
Many of them are owned by first-time drivers drawn from a burgeoning new middle class attracted by prices as low as $4,000.
But Liu, the commission's deputy director, said the city government had already made progress in unlocking traffic jams and was determined its roads would flow smoothly when Beijing hosts the Olympic Games.
"We are going to concentrate on traffic problems big and small. They might have limited individual effect, but together, these changes should make a big difference," Liu said.
Those efforts would include expanding public transportation, building new highways to the city's suburbs and reworking many unruly, poorly designed intersections, among the infrastructure projects towards which Beijing has earmarked $24.2 billion of its $37 billion budget for the 2008 Games.
But the Chinese goverment's directive to reel in major construction to cool an overheating economy is not making the job easier.
"Some construction projects have been slowed in keeping with the central government's policy," Liu said.
Domestic media reported earlier this year that nearly 1,000 new cars take to the roads in Beijing every day, and the total number of cars in the sprawling city is expected to hit 3.5 million by 2008.
"We promise we will not set a policy of stopping private car purchases," Liu said.
One Beijing taxi driver said that that was exactly what the government should do.
"Beijing has too many private cars. They should control it. I've heard that Shanghai has half the cars Beijing does, so traffic is much better there."