June 23, 2008 / 4:05 AM / 10 years ago

Beijing cajoles citizens into green transport

BEIJING, June 23 (Reuters) - Beijing has appealed to residents to take “green” transport and support traffic restrictions ahead of the Olympics, casting the city’s pledge to provide clean air and unclogged roads as a civic “duty”.

Beijing will ban cars on alternate days from July 20, depending on whether their number plates end in odd or even numbers, in a measure which authorities hope will take 45 percent of the city’s 3.29 million cars off the roads and reduce car emissions by 63 percent.

The Chinese capital, which hosts the Olympics from Aug. 9-24 and Paralympics from Sept. 6-17, is one of the most polluted cities in the world and rapidly becoming one of the most congested, with about 1,000 extra cars crowding on to already choked roads every day.

The city government, which on Monday ordered 50 percent of official cars off the roads until after the Paralympics, cajoled residents into the spirit of sacrifice in an open letter posted in state newspapers.

“Citizens and friends, to be able to contribute, serve and be devoted to the Olympics is our glory and pride. It is also our responsibility and our duty,” the letter said on the front page of the Beijing Youth Daily.

“The realisation of air quality standards and smooth, safe traffic conditions is our solemn pledge to the international community,” it said.

Residents, who were also hit with an unpopular 18 percent hike in the price of gasoline on Friday, were urged to do their ”utmost to choose public transport, ride bikes, walk and other green transport modes.

“Let us work hard together to make our own contribution to hold a successful Olympics,” the letter said.

Pollution is a major concern for many athletes ahead of the Games and the IOC has said it may reschedule endurance events to prevent a potential health risk.

Beijing earlier this year announced a raft of factory closures and a ban on major construction to take effect for two months from July 20 to improve air quality.

While few Beijing residents oppose the traffic restrictions, the government’s letter underscores official fears that the fight to clean up the city’s foul air is far from assured.

The country’s top environmental official last month warned that Beijing could only guarantee clean air with favourable weather conditions during the Games if emissions continued at current trends. (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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