How Much Would It Cost for You to Give Up Your Car?

by Benjamin Jones on January 20, 2009

Traffic in Beijing

Image: Commutr

Beijing hopes that $3,600 will do the trick. Perhaps when you consider that that sum represents 67% of the average salary in China by purchasing power parity (source) you might think again. That would be somewhere near $30,000 in the US, and it doesn’t mean you can’t have a car, just not an old one.

Why is Beijing offering up so much money to get cars off the road?

Well, it’s important to note that the $3,600 offer only applies to the most polluting of cars, those 10% that make up 50% of the emissions in central Beijing. After the success the city had during the Olympics of cutting pollution, air quality has become a bigger issue for the Chinese people and politicians.

Given that this is such a large amount of money for the average Chinese person (especially given that people driving older cars are likely to be in lower income ranges), it is likely that this plan will work to some extent. They might not get rid of the full 10% of traffic they are targeting, but I would be surprised if they didn’t get most of those cars off the road.

Part of the reason this will likely be so effective is that the authorities will also be fining people who drive their older vehicles deeper inside the city. The fine won’t be huge by US standards, but it will have to be enough to pay for part of the $3,600 payouts and to discourage people from trying to skirt past the new pollution rules that Beijing has adopted.

Is this a good plan?

We’ve already established that it will probably work, but is this fundamentally a good plan? On some level it flies in from of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” motto that many conservations live by, since pulling cars off the road will mean that new cars need to be manufactured and there is no guarantee that the old cars will be recycled completely. However, when you consider the severity of the air pollution problem in cities like Beijing, I think it’s clear (pardon the pun) that this plan is for the best, at least for such superurban settings.

Everywhere else though, this might not be the best plan. Just because air pollution in Beijing is really bad doesn’t mean that every old, well-running car should be pulled off the road. Air pollution is fundamentally an issue of the concentration of certain pollutants, meaning that vehicle pollution may be a major concern in the city limits of Beijing but it probably doesn’t matter much in the desolate areas of Western China.

That said, this is a good plan for Beijing, but I don’t think we can take this as a case study for the US, where many of the air pollution issues related to cars have already been solved. Sure, LA is a parking lot and could probably use fewer cars on the road and better public transit, but elsewhere a strong focus on public transit will probably reduce traffic and environmental impact more than paying to move old cars off the road.

Thoughts? Share them in the comments!

Source: Treehugger

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