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Plate auctions to stay till Expo

SHANGHAI will not cancel its monthly plate auction before next year's World Expo but is considering granting discounts on the plates of low-emission vehicles.

The Shanghai Development and Reform Commission told a Shanghai People's Congress member who was calling for the cancellation of the plate auction system that quota controls will remain necessary before a mature and developed road network takes shape in Shanghai.

Shanghai has a wide range of Metro, road, tunnel and other urban infrastructure facelift projects under way at the same time in preparation for the 2010 World Expo.

With most of the projects inside busy downtown areas, urban traffic is already under great pressure, the commission said.

It said the government would continue to restrict the number of private sedans locally by the plate auction while making big efforts to improve the public bus system.

In response to Congress member Jiang Jianhua's proposal submitted in January, the commission said local departments are discussing a scheme to provide discounts on plates purchased for small-engine vehicles. The policy is expected to achieve a balance between reducing the cost of owning a private car and further boosting sales of more environmentally friendly cars.

But the commission did not say whether the plate auction would vanish after World Expo, by when the city's public transport and urban traffic systems are expected to be much more efficient.

Shanghai's plate auction system has been a lasting controversy. While some car owners and beneficiaries of the automobile industry insist the policy is unfair because there's no such restriction in other cities in China, others complain the policy is too weak to restrict the growth of private emission producers, given the rapid increase in those buying cheap non-local plates.

The local government has come to describe the plate auction as a "transitional measure to control the total number of automobiles in Shanghai" in recent government statements, implying a change in practice in near future.

Shanghai Vice Mayor Tang Dengjie said late last month that local authorities will increase by 30 percent the number of car plates for auction this year compared to 2008 when 84,500 plates were sold to encourage local spending on automobiles.

Since January, the monthly car plate quota has been on the rise, ranging between 5,200 and 6,500. April's average bidding price was 28,724 yuan (US4,211), up by nearly 1,200 yuan from March.

There are nearly 1.3 million private cars registered in Shanghai but the growing number of drivers registering their vehicles outside of Shanghai is unknown.


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