BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- Beijing embarked on a four-day experiment on Friday to see if taking 1.3 million cars off the city's streets will substantially reduce air pollution at next year's Beijing Olympics.
Haze cloaks the skyline in central Beijing.
Beijing is closing down the worst-polluting factories and switching thousands of homes from coal to gas use, but air quality remains the biggest concern for organisers with less than a year to go until the Games open on August 8, 2008.
The Chinese capital's car tally hit the 3 million mark in May and more than 1,000 more are registered every day, snarling up the city's roads and pumping nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter into the air.
From 6:00 a.m. until midnight on Friday, drivers with an even final digit on their licence plate face fines if they take to the city roads.
Odd numbered cars are banned on Saturday and Monday, while vehicles with even numbers must also stay off the roads on Sunday.
By the middle of the morning rush hour on Friday, the plan appeared to be working with noticeably fewer cars along the broad, tree-lined avenues. Xinhua news agency said about 400,000 car owners were affected.
"All the cars my company owns have odd numbers so we're going to have to reduce our travel today," said Beijing businessman Stephen Chen.
"A once-off won't be too much bother but if the experiment was extended it would cause us serious problems. I think they put more restrictions on the use of cars by government officials and state-owned enterprises."
To deal with the extra burden on public transport, city authorities increased rush hour services on buses and the metro. Government offices opened half an hour earlier at 8 a.m. and shopping malls were to open an hour later than usual at 10 a.m.
Seoul used a similar traffic control measures when it hosted the Olympics in 1988, while Athens had battled its pollution problem with the same tactics for more than a decade before it held the Games in 2004. E-mail to a friend
Copyright 2007 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
All About China