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Beijing considers car congestion fee

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Air pollution in China is dramatically shortening the life expectancy of its residents, damaging its tourism industry and costing the government hundreds of billions of dollars to reverse the trend.

Now, officials in Beijing—a city that has recorded some of its worst smog levels ever—are considering a policy to impose a congestion fee for cars in the center of the city, a practice used in London, Milan and Tokyo, reported state-run China Daily. The policy, which is supposed to go into effect in 2014, was published on the Beijing government website (in Chinese) earlier this week.

The fee aims to cut levels of particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers, known as PM2.5. PM2.5 is a particle that’s small in size, but packs a punch. As pollution, it can spread over a large surface area and is known to carry toxic heavy metals, chemicals and organic pollutants.

The congestion fee is part of the city's five-year plan to clean up its polluted air. Beijing has set a target to reduce PM2.5 concentration to 60 micrograms per cubic meter by 2017, down 25 percent from 2012.

To put that into perspective, consider the U.S. health standard, which the EPA has set at 12 micrograms per cubic meter.

Auto emissions account for one-third of PM2.5 in most congested areas of Beijing, reported China Daily. Other sources include coal-fired power plants, oil refiners and other large industrial factories.

Beijing has vowed to keep private car ownership, which currently stands at about 5.2 million, under 6 million by the end 2017.

The city already uses a lottery system to ban private cars, based on the last digit of their license plate, one workday a week. The new policy would extend the ban to private cars at certain times and areas.

Photo of Beijing's Second Ring Road by Flickr user Pedronet

— By on September 4, 2013, 1:51 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure