BE STRONG

Dear Delhi: Here’s how to cope with odd-even. Love, Beijing

Quartz india
Quartz india

Delhi’s plans to introduce odd/even car license plate restrictions to cut down on air pollution and congestion is nothing new to residents of China’s capital.

Troubled by equally bad smog, Beijing first implemented a similar odd/even regulation during the Olympic Games in 2008. Now the restrictions go into effect on “hazardous” air pollution days, and occasions like the 2014 APEC meeting and this year’s grand military parade. Also since 2008, Beijing drivers, depending on the last number of their license plates, have been banned from the roads one day out of the work week. The restriction (link in Chinese) takes effect in city centers and during peak hours.

Delhi car owners, frankly, seem to be freaking out a bit about the plan. So Quartz asked Beijing residents for their tips on how to cope.

Own a second car

This might be the most straightforward solution, as long as you’ve got enough money—and if you live in Beijing, good luck. (And yes, we recognize that this defeats the purpose of the odd/even plan, we’re just relaying what Beijingers told us.)

A license plate lottery system initiated in 2011 means drivers in Beijing have to win a bimonthly drawing to get a new plate. Those chances in recent months were about 0.5% (link in Chinese).

Ying Wu, 34, a doctoral student at the elite Tsinghua University, was among the lucky ones, as he and his wife got a second plate—then a second car—in 2012 after just two months.

The second car, registered under his wife’s name, has a license number ended with “9,” while the first one under Ying’s name has an ending number of “8.” That was carefully chosen by Ying, not just for the odd/even ban but the congestion one as well.

So Ying and his wife drive their own cars separately on normal days, while on days with restrictions, Ying gives his wife the available car, because, as he said “I have a more flexible schedule as a student.”

Turn to ride-hailing apps

Guo Bo, 48, an employee with a subsidiary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, uses ride-hailing apps, because she’s been trying to get a license plate for a second car in the past two years.

Usually, Guo’s husband drives her the 20-minute ride to work. But when a car ban is in effect, her alternative is Shenzhou Zhuanche, one of the many Chinese versions of Uber. After she calls a cab on the app, it takes her 10 minutes to put on her clothes and walk to the gate of her housing estate, where she said, the cab will always “just arrive in time.” The fee is almost the same as a taxi but it’s “cleaner, more comfortable, and with WiFi.”

On days with restrictions, Guo’s husband, a business owner, takes subways even though it doubles his commuting time to 40 minutes. Guo said her husband is “frugal,” but she cannot stand the crowded Beijing subway during rush hours. “You need to squeeze yourself in when the [train] door closes,” she added.

Carpool

Besides sharing a car with neighbors, friends, or relatives, carpooling business that cater to strangers are thriving in Beijing. Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Didi Kuaidi provide carpooling services, as do websites like pinche, aapinche, and zuobanche.

Carpooling services, however, can be dangerous for passengers and troublesome for drivers. Chinese media reported (link in Chinese) this October that a female passenger was raped by a Beijing driver who provides carpooling service via Didi Kuaidi. Some drivers also complained about “unfriendly” passengers. Beijing resident “Snowlzn” posted on online forum Autohome Club (link in Chinese) that he would never do carpooling again for the “little money” as his passengers treated him like a “zhuanche” driver, or one who works for a ride-hailing company.

Take a day off

If you have flexible working hours, we strongly recommend you don’t go to work on days your car is banned.

“Internet companies are pretty flexible at working hours,” Li Donglin, 25, a tennis game editor for online streamer LeTV, told Quartz. So he takes the day off when he encounters Beijing’s weekly car bans.

Find an unmonitored route (not recommended)

Beijing drivers rival Delhi’s when it comes to breaking local traffic laws. For instance, one of the Beijing natives Quartz interviews, drove on a little side road for three years whenever there was a car ban.

May Shi contributed reporting.

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