Mumbai’s deep green Winin Pereira used to ask people singing the praises of ‘progress’ if they thought it would be a good move for every family in India to have a car – a debate-halting move; no-one ever agreed that it would. China is now finding out – well before that stage has been reached.
Under communism, owning a private car was an impossible dream in China. The Financial Times reports, “ Now that the dream has come true for tens of millions of Chinese, they are waking up each day to a life of traffic jams and smog”.
Beijing’s air pollution has been so bad recently that it has been reported around the world and other mainland cities in China also have ‘world-class’ traffic congestion, parking shortages and commuting times. Even washing all those cars is exacerbating the country’s water shortage, according to a report last week from Friends of Nature, a Chinese NGO.
The impact is so high that some cities are even thinking the unthinkable: sending China back to its roots as a nation of cyclists.
Several local authorities across the country have schemes to encourage people to use bikes. Dong Hongzhao of the Intelligent Traffic System programme at Zhejiang University of Technology says, “Traffic congestion has harmed our health and caused a lot of inconvenience.” He predicts that ‘urbanites’ will soon decide to opt for public transport, or even bicycles.
Hangzhou, the city where Mr Dong lives and works, has the world’s largest public bicycle rental scheme, described on the Gaia Discovery blog. A rechargeable public transport card gives a free hour on a bike – and the same card can be used on Hangzhou’s new subway line, a public bus or taxi:
“With a rental stand every 300m in downtown areas, mobile apps that tell users where to find the closest available bike, and fees that rise from Rmb1 to Rmb3 per hour, the scheme is already very popular: as many as 400,000 people use it every day”.
24-year-old white collar worker Jin Qiyan takes the last bike for his one-hour commute to work. Mr Jin owns a car, but finds – like many in cities including Tokyo, Amsterdam and London that, “it’s faster, more convenient and more environmentally friendly by bike”.
Other cities such as Suzhou, Foshan, Shenzhen, Taiyuan, Changsha, Shanghai and Chengdu, to name just a few, are also pushing public bicycle rental.
But in the first quarter of this year, sales of sports utility vehicles rose and crossover models (CUVs) are becoming popular . . .