A numbers game

This article appears in the See for Yourself feature series. View the full series.
Sr. Nancy Linenkugel, left, sitting in a rickshaw (Provided photo)

The larger cities in China have many things in common, especially traffic congestion and vehicles everywhere. This includes cars, trucks, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, delivery vehicles similar to enclosed golf carts, taxis, and even push carts. Anything with wheels is plentiful all over China's roads and city streets. The proliferation of cars also adds to environmental problems with pollution; it is common to see persons on bikes or scooters wearing masks to filter out dangerous exhaust.

In an effort to cut down on pollution as well as to control the number of cars on the roads, some cities have adopted a numerical procedure based on day of the week.

Each car license plate ends in a number, from 1 to 0. The days of the work week are coordinated with which cars may not be on the road. On Monday, the first day of the work week, cars with license plates ending in 1 or in 6 aren't allowed to be on the road. On Tuesday, the second day of the work week, cars with license plates ending in 2 or 7 aren't allowed to be on the road. Wednesday is 3 or 8. Thursday is 4 or 9. Friday is 5 or 0.

"What happens if your car is on the road when it's not supposed to be there?" I ask.

"You don't want to know. There are severe consequences for violating this policy," one of the tour guides says.

So it's clear that you just have to figure out another means of transportation on a particular day, but the consolation is that everyone's in the same boat. It's just a question of which day of the week you're in that boat. And then you plan accordingly.

Would that work in America? No, it wouldn't work. Those who take advantage of public transportation are already doing that. The majority of us are spread out geographically and rely on the car constantly to get from home to work or to wherever. Besides, we have all those vanity plates that don't have numbers. A plate with "ALLFUN" might be stuck in the driveway forever.

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]