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Good Luck, Xu Zongheng !!!

Lead by Example

By calling on local residents to "stop buying cars" last week, Shenzhen Mayor Xu Zongheng displayed a firm understanding of the magnitude of the traffic problem in this southern city.

However, to drive home the message as a solution to traffic congestion, the mayor might need to urge local public servants to lead the way.

Though serious traffic problems occur in many Chinese cities today, it is rare for local officials to resort to less car ownership.

Predictably, the Shenzhen mayor's call will be unpopular at the moment given the rising appetite of consumers for new cars and domestic automakers' eagerness to sell as many vehicles as possible.

China recently zoomed to be the second biggest auto market in the world after the United States with 4.3 million cars sold last year.

Shenzhen is among a number of China's largest cities that are plagued with traffic jams and pollution. The number of registered cars in this southern city has already exceeded 1 million and is expected to increase by about 20 percent this year.

The growth of car ownership far outstrips the expansion of its public transport network. It is necessary for Shenzhen to invest more to improve its transportation infrastructure. But the unchecked growth of cars almost makes it impossible for domestic cities to improve their traffic fast enough.

It is under such circumstances that, as a last resort, the Shenzhen mayor asked local residents not to buy cars.

The mayor frankly admitted that it was not within his power to make that decision for consumers. But his suggestion does point to a possible and worthwhile approach to ease the city's traffic problems. A voluntary restraint can rein in the explosion in car ownership and prevent traffic jams from worsening.

Yet, to sell the idea, local officials should begin with efforts to ensure the public that the move is not to protect the interests of current car-owners.

As a bigger owner and user, the local government can reduce the use of cars and voluntarily cut the purchase of new ones.

While asking the public to contribute more to the improvement of traffic by sacrificing the convenience of car ownership, public servants are obligated to take the lead in the move.

China Daily 07/10/2007
 

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Unfortunately this news conference, attended by close to a hundred local cadre, was in a hotel on the opposite side of Shenzhen from their office and they all drove their cars to get there.
 
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