Driving in Beijing: Avoid it, Especially on Mondays

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Recent news has me thinking again about cars in Beijing.

1. There are about 4.4 million cars on Beijing’s roads today, with an additional 3 million (at least) expected by 2015.

2. Traffic can stall for hours at a time. Drivers complain that traveling 4 miles can take 2-3 hours. In an attempt to relieve congestion, Beijing traffic authorities recently (October 10) implemented a new policy, effective through January 2011:

Cars with plates ending in 4 or 9 are banned from the road on Mondays;

those ending in 5 or 0 are banned on Tuesdays;

those ending in 1 or 6 care are banned on Wednesdays;

those ending in 2 or 7 are banned on Thursdays;

those ending in 3 or 8 are banned on Fridays.

On weekends there are no restrictions.

3. Simple math suggests that this policy would reduce the eligible number of cars on the road on weekdays by roughly 880,000 units, no small number it would seem.

4. But, in fact, it is smaller than it would seem, at least on Mondays. Why? The number four in Chinese is pronounced si. It happens that si is also the pronunciation for the word meaning “to die” or “death.” Chinese don’t want to be driving around in cars marked for death. Consequently, in registering new cars with the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau (BTMB), they insist on plates without the number 4. Now, according to the China Daily, BTMB, this past Wednesday, threw in the towel altogether, announcing that it would no longer even make plates that contain the number 4. (Curiously, in the same announcement, the vice director of the department dealing with accidents in the BTMB insisted that the si thing is all a baseless superstition, saying that “there is no link between the number of traffic accidents and license plate numbers.”)

5. The lesson here is: whatever the last number of your license plate, don’t even think of driving in downtown Beijing on a Monday, as relatively few cars are sidelined by the ban.  Consider Friday instead: the pronunciation for the number 8 (ba) is similar to the one for “prosperous” or “to become wealthy.”  Everybody wants 8’s.

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