In an effort to clear the air for the upcoming Olympics, the city of Beijing has cut in half the number of cars allowed to drive its streets. The move comes just two weeks before the official start of the games on August 8. The new rule, in effect for only two months, requires drivers to take every other day off from using their cars, depending on whether their license plate numbers end in an odd or even number.
According to Beijing's Olympic organizing committee, the plan should reduce vehicle emissions in and around the city by 63% while in effect. Automobile emissions, along with China's inefficient coal plants, are primarily responsible for the city's trademark thick, gray-brown haze. Those caught driving on days they shouldn't will face a $14 fine, a stiff penalty by Chinese standards. City officials are encouraging Beijing residents to use public transportation, carpool, or even ride a bike or walk instead of getting behind the wheel.
Although the short-term plan won't have much of an impact on overall pollution levels, environmentalists like Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Washington, D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson Center, think it can have a lasting effect by raising awareness of the need to cut back on fossil fuels and the availability of public and human-powered transportation. "The government has been pushing for cleaner autos and standards, and this is helpful for putting the issue front and center," she told reporters.