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Kunming goes car crazy

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Vehicle exhaust is painting Kunming's blue skies gray
Vehicle exhaust is painting Kunming's blue skies gray

Kunming, which has an official population of 6.08 million, issued its 900,000th license plate for a motorized vehicle yesterday – another milestone in the rapid transformation of a city that had very few privately owned automobiles only 10 years ago.

To put the rate of change in perspective, it took 43 years of issuing license plates before Kunming issued its 100,000th license plate for a motorized vehicle in 1992. From 1992 to 1996 another 100,000 vehicles were registered. In the more than 11 years since then, the city has added another 700,000 vehicles to the road.

One statistic in particular is rather disarming: Kunming has added 100,000 motorized vehicles to its streets since the end of June 2007. That is roughly 560 vehicles each day. Private vehicle ownership has been a major force behind the increase in vehicles in Kunming, with private vehicles constituting 85 percent of the motorized vehicles in the city.

According to municipal statistics, there are currently 15 motorized vehicles for every 100 Kunming residents - or 45 motorized vehicles for every 100 three-person households. The rate of growth in the number of motorized vehicles in Kunming is currently 18.06 percent, nearly twice the national rate of 10.02 percent. If current trends hold steady, Kunming will have one million motorized vehicles by Olympics time.

Officials cited in a Kunming Daily report said that exhaust from motorized vehicles has emerged as the chief polluter of the city's air, adding carbon monoxide, particular matter and other pollutants into the city, which is enclosed by mountains on three sides. It is estimated that fuel totaling 11.45 billion yuan in value was consumed by motorized vehicles in Kunming last year.

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