China now has more than 300 million registered vehicles – almost the same number as people in the United States – on its increasingly jammed roads.
The number of vehicles registered in China reached an all-time high of 300.3 million at the end of March, with cars accounting for two-thirds of that number, according to the traffic bureau of the Ministry of Public Security.
The US has a population of more than 324 million, according to its Census Bureau.
China, with 1.3 billion people, is quickly becoming a society on wheels, providing a market for carmakers from Volkswagen to Toyota and cultivating a fan base for movies like the Fast and Furious series. The eighth instalment of the movie, The Fate of the Furious, sold US$190 million worth of tickets over opening weekend in China, nearly twice the $100 million it made on opening weekend in the United States, according to Fortune magazine.
However, China’s poor road designs, bad driving habits and expanding car ownership are creating serious pollution and congestion issues, even though on a per capita basis, China’s car density is much lower than that of the US.
According to the latest Tom Tom Traffic Index, 10 of the 25 most congested cities in the world are in mainland China, namely Chongqing, Chengdu, Beijing, Changsha, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Shijiazhuang, Shanghai and Tianjin.
According to AutoNavi, a major mapping service provider in China, Jinan was the city with the worst traffic congestion in the nation in the first quarter of this year, with average rush hour car speeds as low as 20km/h, followed by Harbin and Hohhot.
“The speed of growth [in car ownership] is very fast in China,” said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai consulting firm Automotive Foresight. “Cities will see more congestion.”
Janet Lewis, an analyst for the Asian auto market at Macquarie Capital Securities, said China’s traffic congestion is worsened by a high level of traffic accidents and illegal parking.
According to World Health Organisation estimates, about 260,000 people are killed in traffic accidents in China every year.
As the end of March, China had 49 cities with more than 1 million cars registered, and 19 cities with more than 2 million. Six major cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu, Suzhou, and Shenzhen – have more than 3 million registered cars.