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    Company Accused of Running Empty Buses for Green Subsidies

    An electric bus that racks up 30,000 kilometers is eligible for up to $75,000 in government funds.

    A transport operator in northern China has been accused of running a fleet of empty electric buses to meet requirements for government subsidies, new media outlet Beijing Time reported Tuesday.

    Over a hundred passengerless coaches have taken to the streets of Linfen, Shanxi province, allegedly to rack up enough miles to secure the extra funds. Residents told Beijing Time that the buses, operated by Linfen Xinyu Tourism Co. Ltd., have been running from roughly 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day since October, with only a driver aboard.

    In January, China implemented a guideline to better regulate the burgeoning new-energy vehicle industry. The standard called for “non-private” electric vehicles to rack up 30,000 kilometers in order to receive government subsidies. Companies like Linfen Xinyu, whose buses are categorized as “mid- to heavy-duty,” can receive up to 500,000 yuan ($75,000) in subsidies per new-energy vehicle, or one that is mostly or entirely powered by electricity.

    The company’s manager, surnamed Hao, has denied any subterfuge or foul play. He told Beijing Time that the buses were running to keep their batteries performing well during the chilly winter months. Temperatures in Linfen over the past few weeks have occasionally dropped below freezing. Sixth Tone’s repeated calls to the company on Wednesday went unanswered.

    After Beijing Time published its report, the provincial and city governments announced that they would investigate the case. However, transport authorities in Xiangfen, one of the counties Linfen comprises, told the media outlet that all of the city’s electric buses had their required licenses and were not being operated illegally.

    Chinese authorities have been strictly monitoring new-energy vehicle manufacturers in recent months following a series of fraud-related scandals. In February, seven automakers were found to have exaggerated the strength of their batteries, disqualifying them from future subsidies. And in September of last year, five companies were fined for defrauding the government of over 1 billion yuan in special funding.

    Subsidies for new-energy vehicles are part of China’s push to promote such forms of transport and reduce air pollution. On Dec. 5, a new guideline instructed Party and government organs to take the lead in switching to new-energy vehicles. By 2020, China plans to have 5 million such vehicles on its roads, a substantial increase from the 507,000 it recorded by the end of 2016.

    Contributions: Joyce Siu; editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: A security guard walks among electric buses at a station in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, Sept. 20, 2017. Shen Qilai/Bloomberg via Getty Images/VCG)