And Finally

Relative advantage

Families come first in new car licence lottery


Ready for the road

The harmonious, multi-generational family is the Chinese ideal. You see the theme replicated in feel-good ads for everything from cooking oil to banking. The converse – inter-generational bickering – is the stuff of juicy soaps and neighbourhood gossip.

Typically, the family is supposed to come first, ahead of the rights or needs of individuals. But newly proposed rules for car licence plates in the city of Beijing are putting a new twist on the familial dynamic.

The new regulations – posted for public comment on June 1 – propose that members of the same family can pool their applications for a much-coveted licence plate. As a result, they will stand a higher chance of winning a licence in the monthly Beijing lottery. The more generations sharing the car, the higher the family’s chances of winning.

Needless to say, China’s young and unmarried are unhappy about the idea, because it reduces their chances of getting a licence. That may even limit their chances of getting married: owning a car can still help to snag a good partner in some parts of the mainland marriage market.

The proposed rules say a family will qualify for extra points if none of its members has a car already. There is another caveat: if a family member has divorced someone who already has a licence plate, they cannot reapply till 10 years after the divorce.

“This is a disguised policy designed to suppress divorce,” a displeased netizen claimed. “It is going to make cars even more valuable assets in divorce cases,” another added.

Beijing introduced the licence lottery in 2010 as a means of limiting traffic in China’s congested capital. However, demand for cars has not abated, with three million Beijingers taking part in the lottery every year. The odds of winning are now around 1 in 2,900, according to experts.

At least two million Beijing families would be eligible to apply under the new scheme, quoted officials as saying. According to the Beijing Municipal Commission for Transport, the chances of success for a three-generation family (with four applicants) will be 126 times higher than for an individual participating in the lottery for the first time. A two-generation family are 54 times more likely to win one than individual applicants. And even a couple is 16 times better-off than a singleton (Beijing plans to award a total of 100,000 licences this year).

Commentators are already questioning the workability of the policy – asking who the legal ownership of the licence would reside with.

Other netizens asked how any family – no matter how harmonious in spirit – would handle the politics of sharing out the car between them. “What if me and my husband want to go visit my family at Chinese New Year but the car is technically owned by his family,” asked one concerned wife.

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