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Road rage in Lhasa as vehicle numbers soar

WHEN one in every four residents in the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region owns a car, does this add up to convenience or congestion?

Tseten Wangmo, who cherishes her daily walk with a prayer wheel around Potala Palace, a major religious and tourist site in Lhasa, thinks cars are becoming a problem. Her prayer ritual is often interrupted at a busy intersection on the Potala square.

She must wait five or six minutes just to cross the 10-meter-wide road, which has no traffic lights.

Many older residents of Lhasa face similar problems, particularly during the Sagadawa Festival, which is a religious event held in the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar.

The vehicle management department of the municipal traffic police said yesterday that there were about 64,440 private vehicles in Lhasa, or one for every four residents. The figure was less than 50,000 in 2007.

The department said the total number of motor vehicles in Lhasa was 82,857 this month, up 4.13 percent from May 2008.

In this ancient city with a population of 270,000, a vehicle has become a necessity as the economy develops rapidly and living standards improve.

Tibet's gross domestic product reached 39.59 billion yuan (US$5.8 billion) last year, up 10 percent from 2007, and the average per capita urban disposable income rose to 12,482 yuan, up 12.1 percent.

While more cars mean more convenience for Lhasa's people, they also have a downside.

"There is a traffic jam at almost every downtown intersection during rush hours," said Tseten Wangmo's daughter Pasang, who needs to take her daughter to and from school by car every day.

"Sometimes I want to leave my car at home when I go to work because the traffic is so heavy in the city," said a young Lhasa resident named Tawang, who bought his first car in 2000.

He yearned for the days when driving was a pleasure, not a battle.

Parking is another challenge as the city has few spaces for vehicles to park.


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