The Surprise About Shanghai’s Traffic Crackdown: It’s Working
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2017-03-11 09:00:13

When Shanghai kicked off China’s biggest overhaul of local traffic management one year ago, residents reluctantly complied, and waited for the police presence at major intersections, the angry whistle-blowing, and the on-the-spot fines for traffic violations to gradually melt away — the usual course of events for such crackdowns.

But at a press conference in November 2016, Yang Xiong, at the time the mayor of Shanghai, revealed that the drive had not gone away; it had had far-reaching ramifications. In fact, Yang said to a group of amused reporters, several of his government colleagues had even been caught by the cops.

Sixth Tone spoke to Wei Kairen, a former deputy head of traffic police, about Shanghai’s “Big Traffic Overhaul,” and what he hoped to achieve through it. (Since the interview, Wei has been promoted to a leading role at the Jinshan branch of the city’s Bureau of Public Security.) The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Wei Kairen, a former deputy head of traffic police in Shanghai, is seen on duty. Courtesy of the Shanghai Traffic Police Corps

Wei Kairen, a former deputy head of traffic police in Shanghai, is seen on duty. Courtesy of the Shanghai Traffic Police Corps

Sixth Tone: Can you explain a few of the reasons for Shanghai’s traffic woes?

Wei Kairen: When a city develops as fast as Shanghai — which now has 24 million people — there is bound to be a bottleneck effect. Citizens sit in traffic jams every day, and people regularly break the laws. These two key issues demonstrate that as our city grows, we also need to develop more sophisticated policies to keep the city’s traffic situation civilized. We conducted a survey and found that widespread rule violations were causing traffic bottlenecks across the city.

Sixth Tone: Why haven’t previous attempts to change the traffic culture in Shanghai succeeded?

Wei Kairen: In the past, our overhauls focused on trying to solve congestion rather than making people obey the traffic rules. In other words, the traffic police used to try and ensure smooth traffic flow rather than deal with the root cause of traffic jams — so they always failed. This time we asked: What should the traffic police do on the road? What is causing chaos in the city?

Sixth Tone: What are the overall aims of this traffic initiative?

Wei Kairen: To encourage people to be more considerate of one another, and to improve the general environment for road users. There are three main things. The first is a quieter city — so fewer car horns. We have established and enforced “no-blaring zones” and clamped down on illegal horn use. Even though it might seem like a small act, this kind of behavior is uncivilized and encourages road rage. Secondly, drivers must act more considerately toward one other. Many residents hate it when vehicles scramble for a better position in the lanes. Thirdly, vehicles should allow pedestrians to go first at crosswalks.

Since the kickoff of the big overhaul, police officers have enforced the laws strictly, and this has restored their authority.

Sixth Tone: What have you achieved in the past year?

Wei Kairen: The city’s quieter than before. There are fewer violations. We’re now mostly catching people for illegal parking, while illegal horn use has steadily decreased. There are still some flaws, though, so our aims have not been achieved just yet.

Sixth Tone: Do the traffic police understand the goals?

Wei Kairen: I can’t deny that we used to enforce the law quite loosely. Police officers didn’t use to punish people who broke the traffic rules while they stood at intersections during the morning and evening rush hours. Part of this overhaul has been to develop habits of strict law enforcement among our officers.

The traffic initiative has pushed them to fundamentally change their mindsets away from not being willing to punish the violators. Since the kickoff of the big overhaul, police officers have enforced the laws strictly, and this has restored their authority.

Sixth Tone: Have there been any major obstacles to rolling out this initiative?

Wei Kairen: We have definitely experienced some unexpected twists during the implementation, which we consider normal. I remember there was a taxi driver who thought a police officer who fined him had enforced the law subjectively. So he followed the officer for about a month, after which he said he was convinced that the officer had indeed enforced the law impartially and systematically.

Traffic police maintain an orderly flow of vehicles at an intersection in Shanghai, July 28, 2016. Jia Ru/Sixth Tone

Traffic police maintain an orderly flow of vehicles at an intersection in Shanghai, July 28, 2016. Jia Ru/Sixth Tone

Sixth Tone: Have you ever considered relaxing the level of law enforcement?

Wei Kairen: Never. That’s impossible. We always say that the “Big Traffic Overhaul,” as we call it, has a beginning but no end. We used to have short-term action plans, but now we have different criteria. Our past overhauls were limited to definite time frames. For instance, the so-called winter campaigns were set to last during the three winter months. This time, however, we didn’t set a time frame in the beginning. Why? We’ve used strict law enforcement as the measurement for the big overhaul. As long as the criteria for law enforcement don’t change, we will continue with the big overhaul. So we will never relax our work.

Sixth Tone: How long can the overhaul last when taking into account the available traffic police force?

Wei Kairen: How long? I’m telling you unequivocally that it will be forever. We will value the fruit that we’ve fought for and strictly stick to the criteria that are used in this overhaul in our future work.

Sixth Tone: Has the Big Traffic Overhaul had any impact on other parts of China?

Wei Kairen: We have had interactions and exchanges with our counterparts across the country. China’s national Ministry of Public Security has been following the big overhaul very closely. There has never been a project like this anywhere else in the country that has lasted such a long time, been carried out with such strict criteria, on such a large scale, while attracting so much attention. So we have the attention of leaders in many other cities. The Big Traffic Overhaul has not only solved the problems in traffic management, but also become an innovative plan for the general management of cities. Meng Jianzhu, a member of the Politburo, and Guo Shengkun, head of the Ministry of Public Security, have provided us with guidance throughout the process.

(Header image: A police officer directs traffic at an intersection in Shanghai, March 28, 2016. Zhu Weihui/Sixth Tone)