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Beijing traffic lottery begins: 1 in 10 will get to buy a license plate

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REUTERS/Larry Downing

(Read caption) A traffic jam during weekday rush hour in Beijing Jan. 10.

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Beijing’s new automobile lottery has gotten under way, and the chances of winning don’t look good.

Some 210,178 people have applied for the 20,000 lucky numbers that will give them the right to buy a license plate this month. That gives each applicant a less than 1 in 10 chance.

The system is part of the Chinese capital’s efforts to get a grip on nightmare traffic jams. This year only 240,000 license plates will be available in a bid to bring automobile sales down from their record level last year, when they reached 890,000. That meant 17,000 new cars were hitting Beijing’s streets every week. Driving was becoming impossible.

When the lottery came into force on Jan. 1, Beijingers had a week in which to enter their names. Now applications for this month are closed; the winners will be chosen in a draw in two weeks’ time, after everybody’s forms have been checked for eligibility. Only those with a Beijing residence permit or who have lived and paid taxes in the capital for five years may apply.

The winners will have six months in which to buy a car. The 190,178 losers will see their names rolled over into February’s drawing, along with however many tens of thousands new applicants enter the lottery next month.

In 2009, China overtook the US to become the world's largest consumer of cars and it's still growing rapidly. The number of cars on Beijing’s roads has nearly doubled in the past five years, making driving in the city center at almost any hour a nightmare.

The government banned all car sales in the capital from Dec. 24 until its new lottery system comes up with the names of the applicants who will have the right to buy license plates this month.


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