My China City Profile: Shenzhen

Documenting the Urban Phenomenon of Traffic Congestion -- in Shenzhen

Above photo: Shenzhen drivers have a leisurely stretch outside their car as the highway comes to an indefinite halt.


Traffic conditions in Shenzhen are plainly awful. Congestion has become an increasingly prominent problem in the city, both for the city government to deal with and the citizens to ponder . In 2013, before the Shenzhen government announced they would cap new license plates to 100,o00 a year, there were more than 2.25 million cars legally registered cars licensed to drive on Shenzhen's highways and roads (more on that later). This meant, in 2013 that Shenzhen had the densest concentration of vehicles per square kilometer of all the cities in China. Traffic as a city issue might sound like trifle, relative to more "global" issues, but the fact that the government has taken action last year means that the problem can't be undermined.

       Above photo: General Secretary of the PRC Xi Jinping in a visit to Shenzhen


How can the Shenzhen government effectively curb and mitigate traffic congestion?


  1. What is causing Shenzhen’s traffic to be so busy, congested, and colossal?
  2. What measures can be taken to mitigate the situation?
  3. What measures have already been undertaken or have been planned to be undertaken by the city government?
  4. What limitations do these measures (undertaken or preliminary) have?


Above photo: Map of Luohu, the most popular "wholesale goods" district in Shenzhen, aa sort of equivalent to Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. Traffic congestion is prevalent in these popular urban areas.

Above photo: Map of Futian, another popular urban district in Shenzhen. Similarly also a site for traffic jams.

HD Video of First-Hand Dash-cam Shenzhen Traffic:

Qualitative Data:

1. ON December 12 2014: "Starting from 6 p.m. Monday, 100,000 new vehicle plates will be allocated annually for the city, including 20,000 electric cars." -Chen Huigang, deputy director of the city's traffic and transport commission (chinadaily)

2. ALSO on December 12 2014: "In an interview,Xu Wei, deputy head of traffic police bureau of the city, said vehicles with non-Shenzhen plates will be forbidden during rush hours on weekdays if they are not from Hong Kong or Macao." (chinadaily)

3. (China Daily") "During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in November, the Beijing municipal government issued a ban based on alternating odd-even license plate numbers to control air pollution and ease traffic congestion."

3. "Vehicle emissions are the biggest contributor to China's smog after coal consumption, the China Youth Daily reported Dec. 8, citing Zhang Xiaoye, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences." (

Quantitative Data:

1. Week of 2014 June 13 -- Average speed of vehicles traveling during:

Morning rush hour: 29.1km/h

Evening rush hour: 25.9 km/h

There is a general or approximate increase of 12.4% in speed (km/h) when comparing morning rush compared to evening rush hour.

2. In the span of one year, between 2013 and 2014, vehicle ownership had grew by at least 11.1%, or equivalent to an increase of ~300,000 vehicles each year.

3. (Asia Weekly) "When polling 20,000 residents in 38 cities nationwide, reports show that 83% of urban residents expressed concerns about traffic congestion, and 16.5% of them felt the problem was “extremely serious."

- Shenzhen's residents were included to be polled in the Asia Weekly report

Explanation and Analysis:

By the end of 2013 Shenzhen had 2.7 million vehicles registered, and the Shenzhen government knew they had to take action and devise a plan to stagnate the fast growth of vehicle ownership in an increasingly wealthy and modernized China. This is why at the very latter end of 2014 (most Chinese news agencies had the policy reported on December 29, two days before the end of the year) that the Shenzhen government was to limit the amount of license plates to be handed out to 100,000 a year, half to be auctioned and half to be won by lottery -- suffice to change if based on factors of traffic, air pollution, and vehicle demand.

The 100,000 plates a year also stipulates that 20,000 of those 100,000 plates are to be used for electric cars. In this regard the Shenzhen government has taken action and have tried to mitigate the situation. The fact that they were vocal in altering the capping policy based on external factors highlights that the government are willing to be flexible.

The November 2014 introduction of "odd and even" number plate policies was also implemented. The policy stipulates that only license plates of the same type may be driven on a specific day. Alternatively put, an "odd" plated car can not be driven on the same day as an "even" plated car, and vice versa. This policy was actually told to me by my Dad, when sometimes he would take me to Shenzhen with him. Before the 2014 December plate-capping (100,000) policy was issued, my Dad was actually one of the lucky people to have bought a private car before then, where now half of the plates are auctioned and the other half are attained by lottery.  

The Shenzhen government were smart in issuing the "odd and even" policy on top of the 100,000 car capping, but the small, minor limitations and flaws of the "odd and even" still stands out. Many upper-middle class people with not even necessarily excessively high net worths in Shenzhen are able to buy more than two cars, rendering the odd and even policy a little obsolete and futile. Based on the day, the "right" car can be driven, causing monopoly, and, if the 100,000 quota by some miracle is not reached, an originally disallowed surplus of cars would be driven. However, this remains to be a problem to be solved, or perhaps, even cared for by the Shenzhen government.

Looking to the Future:

The Shenzhen government and the Chinese government in general of all the major urban cities should continue monitoring the traffic situation and pay considerable attention to either a) the improvement of traffic or b) the worsening of traffic, decreasing or increasing car demand, as well as air pollution to adjust policies and rules. If all three of these factors can offset one another and are steadily manageable (traffic conditions manageable and decent, air pollution inexcessive, car demand high, indicative of a booming economy and prosperous people) than the Chinese government will have scored a neat, albeit unwordly, victory.

Bibliography MLA:

  1. Lee, Sorais. "Cross-boundary Traffic Prediction." (n.d.): n. pag.
  2. "China's Shenzhen Caps New-vehicle Plates to Control Smog, Congestion." Automotive News. N.p., 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 01 May 2015.
  3. Lee, Danny. "Shenzhen Has, Apparently, the Worst Traffic Congestion in All of China | The Nanfang." The Nanfang. N.p., 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 01 May 2015.

4. "Shenzhen Tourism: Best of Shenzhen." Tripadvisor. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2015.

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