Beijing parking? Chinese puzzle

2012-06-08 09:27

BEIJING, China - There are only enough parking spaces for every second car in the Chinese capital, Beijing - which means 2.5-million have nowhere to park.

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 with 20 000 number plates distributed through a 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". Her office has employees' parking 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 the equivalent of R250 000." Which is far more than Zhang's car cost.


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.

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 the equivalent of R12 for the first 60 minutes. That increases to R18 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 and fines. A parking ticket costs R250 plus two points in China's traffic violation register; reach 12 points and you lose your driving licence.


Gu Yuanli, a professor at Jiaotong University, says the Chinese capital is not equipped to deal with modern demands and believes there is only one solution: "We must encourage people to take public transport more often."

He's in favour of expanding Beijing's metro and bus networks and would like to see parking at stops in the suburbs. Until now there has been only slow progress in that direction but there is hope: by the end of 2011 the number of Beijing residents going to work by public transport increased from 39.7 to 42%.

Doesn't it all sound very familiar...?