BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing will introduce “odd-even” traffic restrictions for two months from July 20 to help ease congestion and reduce pollution during the Olympics and Paralympics, officials said on Friday.
Authorities hope the regulations will take 45 percent of the city’s 3.29 million cars off the road and reduce emissions from vehicles by 63 percent, officials told a news conference.
“Smooth traffic and good air quality are important factors in hosting a successful Olympic Games and also in fulfilling Beijing’s promises to the International Olympic Committee,” said transport department spokesman Zhou Zhengyu.
Beijing, which hosts the Olympics from August 8-24 and Paralympics from September 6-17, is one of the most polluted cities in the world and is rapidly becoming one of the most congested.
Cars will be banned on alternate days depending on whether their number plates end in odd or even numbers.
Those affected by the ban will be compensated by not having to pay road or vehicle taxes for three month, costing the city about 1.3 billion yuan ($189 million).
Violators would be punished “according to relevant national and local regulations” and lose the compensation.
Only 70 percent of government-owned cars will be included in the scheme.
Security, emergency services, buses, taxis, coaches and sanitation vehicles as well as Beijing organizing committee and diplomatic cars will also be exempt.
Du Shaozhong of the Environmental Protection Bureau was asked about the discrepancy between the reduction in vehicle numbers and the much larger reduction in emissions.
“The yellow tag or high-emission vehicles, which will be taken off the road completely by July 19, are responsible for 50 percent of the total pollutant discharge,” he said.
The public transport network, boosted by three new subway lines, is expected to take the strain with longer hours and more services allowing more than 4 million extra passengers to use the system a day.
Pollution is a major concern for many athletes ahead of the Games and the IOC has said it may reschedule endurance events to prevent a potential health risk.
A test traffic ban was run last August and, although the impact on air quality was not immediately noticeable to residents, authorities declared themselves satisfied.
A raft of factory closures and partial closures as well as a ban on major construction announced earlier this year will also take effect for two months from July 20.
The new traffic regulations, though long expected, will have come as a blow to Beijing drivers, who woke up on a smoggy Friday to find the price of gasoline and diesel had unexpectedly risen by 1,000 yuan ($145.5) per metric ton.
“The municipal government recognizes the inconvenience caused to the people resulting from the adoption of the traffic control measures,” Zhou said.
An opinion poll of Beijing residents released on Friday found that 93 percent understood why the traffic restrictions had been put into place.
The CTR Market Research telephone poll of 2,000 Beijingers found that most people planned to use buses and only 16.7 percent said they would use private cars during the Games.
Some 65 percent thought the Olympics would not have a great impact on their daily lives and 88 percent thought hosting the Games would improve the environment of the city.
“Simply put, we have every confidence in our capacity to provide clean air for the Olympic Games,” Du added.
(Editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb)