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Trying to slow down car ownership | MIT news

In 2011, to limit pollution and traffic congestion in Beijing, officials imposed a city-wide limit on the number of cars residents can buy annually. This policy has helped limit car sales and emissions. But the system has a loophole: Beijing residents have gone elsewhere in China to buy cars and then bring them home.

As a new study co-authored by MIT scientists found, this “leakage” reduces the intended effects of the car restraint system by about 35 percent. So while Beijing is adding fewer new cars per year than it used to and its aggressive policies have had an impact, the program also offers an expert case study of the challenges of creative environmental and transport policies in any setting.

One important point is the need for regional coordination in these areas, notes MIT professor Jinhua Zhao, co-author of a new paper detailing the study. Another problem is the continuing need for non-automotive urban design worldwide.

“If you want to design a car control policy for a specific city while you’re doing the [vehicle] flow from the region, then the politics will not work, ”says Zhao. “Beijing needs regional coordination between the communities. You need to talk to your neighboring cities. It’s like the city of Boston wanted congestion charges [for cars], all communities in the Massachusetts Bay Area would need to work together. Regional cooperation is a key solution. “

And while many cities in China have greatly expanded their mass transit capabilities in recent years, planners everywhere should be asking, “Why do people have so much desire for cars? The more you can offer really good and robust local public transport, the less pressure there is on people to own and use cars. “

The paper “Measuring Policy Leaking of Beijing’s Car Ownership Restrictions” appears in the June issue of Transportation Research Part A: Politics and Practice. The authors are Yunhan Zheng, a PhD student at the MIT Urban Mobility Lab; Joanna Moody, a research program manager for the MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility Systems Center; Shenhao Wang, researcher at MIT Urban Mobility Lab; and Zhao, Associate Professor of Transportation and Urban Planning in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Director of the MIT Mobility Initiative.

The research was supported by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Future Mobility Interdisciplinary Research Group and the MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility of the Future study.

Pollution solution

The number of cars registered in Beijing rose rapidly from just over 900,000 in 2003 to around 3.5 million in 2010. In 2009 alone, around 529,000 were added.

“This growth cannot be managed without massive traffic jams,” says Zhao.

In addition, Beijing and other Chinese cities suffered from well-publicized environmental problems. To reduce pollution, government leaders have come up with several solutions, including limiting car purchases. From 2011 to 2013, the city-wide limit of Beijing was 240,000 new vehicles per year; now it’s even lower at 100,000 a year.

Beijing is holding a lottery for applicants to see who can buy vehicles. Shanghai, another city that has had a similar policy, introduced an auction system in 1994, something Zhao has also studied and written about in several previous papers; Car permit auctioning increases revenue for Shanghai and helps subsidize local public transport, but according to survey data, residents think this is less fair.

“Both are very aggressive measures to really lower the growth rate,” notes Zhao.

And politics has clearly had an impact. Despite the official limit on new car registrations in Beijing, the actual number of new cars in the city could well be higher.

To examine the impact of Beijing’s car ownership policy on private car growth in neighboring cities, MIT researchers conducted a “difference-in-differences” analysis of car registrations in neighboring cities from 2006 to 2013 to evaluate how Beijing’s policies caused change over time. The researchers found that in the three-year period from 2011 to 2013 after Beijing introduced its car purchase restrictions, vehicle sales in neighboring cities suddenly shot up by 443,000 additional cars, more than the previous growth rate.

After considering various economic and demographic factors in the surrounding cities to determine if any of them also had exceptional growth prospects, the researchers estimate that enough of those 443,000 cars would have ended up in Beijing to make that 35 percent dent in their vehicle – Quota system. People were looking for ways to bypass the registration system.

“Once you’ve drawn a line, you have to manage the line,” says Zhao.

Connect transport policy

While the study focuses on Beijing, Zhao believes its findings have a wide variety of implications for transport and climate policies around the world – and even overlap with issues of effective governance.

“The leak itself has different consequences,” says Zhao. “One level is that the policy is not that effective. But more importantly, when you have a policy [avoided] from different people … then you can [damage] people’s trust in any policy. “

In this and other questions, it makes sense for authorities and politicians to anticipate such consumer reactions and, if possible, to work together regionally to resolve them. Or even to plan regionally, from the car to the traffic to the climate.

“You have to talk about how you can do these things together,” says Zhao.

In addition, Zhao notes that, thanks to far-sighted urban planning and the provision of resources by the government, “many people would not need a car. But that requires a lot of investment, a lot of effort. To be fair to Beijing and Shanghai, they have done really well and invested in local public transport. But it is not enough to cover all mobility needs. “

However, when people have access to jobs, schools and shops on foot or by public transport, this type of provision of civil goods has a profound impact on the environment – and can be part of almost any transport policy debate.

“Here, transport policy is not just about traffic itself, it must also be linked to housing policy, school policy, environmental policy and more,” says Zhao. “That leads to a broader discussion about sustainability and urban liveliness.”

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