For more than a decade, Wang Yong has been on a one-man crusade in Beijing, giving others rides into the city.
“I’ve been carpooling for 15 years and for the first 13 years I’ve done it alone,” said Wang. “Every day when I was going to work or coming back I would give people a ride who were going in the same direction."
Wang estimated that he’s given at least 10,000 people rides and said it’s even how he met his wife.
Beijing has more than five million registered cars on the road and its traffic and pollution woes are no small problem. Traffic jams abound and commuters cram into buses and metro trains. Traffic pollution is a significant cause of the city's notorious smog.
The government has taken aggressive steps to cut down the number of cars on the road, restricting vehicles from driving on certain days during the week. The government has even banned official cars from use when pollution levels peak.
Still, most cars on the road are only carrying their driver. And that is what Wang Yong and his campaign, Shunfeng Che, which means carpooling in Chinese, is trying to change.
For several years now, Wang has been expanding on his earlier efforts, sponsoring a carpool campaign during the Chinese New Year to help link up drivers and commuters, taking advantage of social media networks and the Internet.
Last month, he helped launch a new campaign on the outskirts of Beijing in Huilongguan, a major commuting hub with about two-thirds the population of the U.S. capital Washington D.C.
Organizer Liu Kunming said that nearly 2,000 people have already joined.
“Our main objective is to convince the government to run this kind of program,” said Liu. “We hope that all highways in Beijing can implement this sort of policy, that if a car carries at least three people they can waive the highway toll to get in and out of the city. This will encourage more car owners to pool their cars.”
Carpooling is commonplace in big cities in Europe and America. Some even have special lanes for those who ride together.
The Shunfeng Che campaign originally sought government support to give participants a free pass on highway tolls, in the end, the campaign’s organizers had to cover the costs until the campaign ends in mid-September.
However, the Beijing city government has listed carpooling as one of a handful of solutions to the capital’s traffic in its annual review. Chinese media are reporting that the campaign Shunfeng Che has launched will play a key role in the city government’s traffic review and its consideration of a carpooling policy.
For some, there is no need to wait for the government. For them, the benefits of carpooling are already obvious.
One carpooler surnamed Liu who pulled up at the campaign’s stop this week in Huilongguan said he and his friends have been driving together over the past three years, even though they all owned cars.
“We’re friends and know each other well, and traffic is increasingly heavy so driving one car is very convenient. Parking spaces are few and we can save on gas and highway tolls. There many advantages,” he said.
Wang said that he’s hopeful that the government will introduce regulations that help promote carpooling this year. He said the government and Chinese media have been showing more support now than ever before, but trust between passengers and carpool drivers was still an obstacle.
“For me carpooling has always been a way to share and to build trust among people," said Wang. “Now, I believe with this method we can cut emissions, we can ease traffic and build mutual trust.”
Wang said that if at least 10 percent of the drivers of cars on the streets would get on board, even that would go a long way to cutting pollution and easing traffic.