As cars become increasingly affordable, traffic congestion is bringing some Chinese cities to a standstill. The paralysis of the country's major metropolises will be the norm in the foreseeable future if something isn't done about it. But, what?
Beijing and Guangzhou have two very different answers. This might not be the best time to pass judgment on the two approaches, or even make a serious comparison, as the latter is still in the process of soliciting public comments on its traffic control program, but the two approaches speak volumes.
As the center of national power, the city of Beijing has once again demonstrated its traditional faith in the visible hand of government. In addition to the introduction of new measures to widen and extend local transport arteries, and improve the availability and convenience of public transport, it has also set a ceiling on car sales. On Wednesday, the first group of applicants in the city will try their luck drawing lots.
Unless something unexpected happens, the relatively liberal Guangzhou will unveil a quite different roadmap for congestion control. Judging from what it has published for public opinion at least, there is nothing particularly dependent on heavy-handed administrative interference. At the very least, there is no attempt to impose a compulsory limit on the number of private cars in the city.
Not that traffic congestion is less serious in the southern boomtown. According to the local transport authorities, annual growth in the number of licensed private vehicles has been even faster than in Beijing. But that has not prompted the local authorities to resort to the planning approach of the capital.
Guangzhou has all the positives of Beijing's agenda - upgrading the capacity of the local road network, improving parking facilities and relevant information services, prioritizing public transport and a moratorium on the growth in vehicles owned by public institutions - but it seems, from its draft version at least, that the city will avoid the less desirable measures introduced by Beijing.
Guangzhou will not impose compulsory quotas on private vehicles, nor will it introduce discriminatory rules against non-local vehicles.
It will take time to see how effective the different schemes are, particularly that of Guangzhou. But we feel much better about the Guangzhou one. At least it will not leave any group of the public feeling unfairly treated.
Beijing's approach, on the other hand, has encouraged a buying spree, including many who would otherwise have waited a while before purchasing a vehicle of their own. Not to mention denying access to vehicles with non-local license plates.