China's Urbanization and Motorization


The rapid urbanization in China over the past few decades has led to ballooning demand for mobility. Rising incomes and falling automobile prices have released a wave of mass motorization, producing severe traffic congestion and air pollution in many major metropolitan areas, creating the urgent need for better mobility management.

At JTL, we evaluate how transportation systems can be made more sustainable and efficient in China. Indeed, we have identified that the overall growth of automobiles in China conceals significant variation among its cities. Crucial differences in the timing and structure of these cities’ transportation policies have influenced their effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. The variation among cities also represents remarkably different social and economic priorities, and a willingness by various cities to experiment.  We examine the effects of varying transportation policies by studying people’s attitudes and compliance to the policies.

Beyond China’s transportation policies, we also examine the multi-dimensional characteristics, unbalanced processes, and divergent paths of China’s urbanization. We study, for instance, the evolution of China's Hukou system, and recent land-ownership policy changes, in both cases considering their impact on internal rural-urban migration.

Measuring policy leakage of Beijing’s car ownership restriction, Yunhan Zheng, Joanna Moody, Shenhao Wang, and Jinhua Zhao , Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, (2021)

In response to severe traffic congestion and air pollution, Beijing introduced a car ownership restriction policy to curb growth in the number of private cars in the city. However, Beijing residents can still purchase and register their cars in neighboring cities and this “leakage” may substantially reduce the policy’s effectiveness. Using city-level data collected from the CEIC China Premium Database, we aim to quantify the spill-over effect: the impact of Beijing’s policy on the growth of...

Measuring Policy Leakage of Beijing's Car Ownership Restriction in Neighboring Cities, Yunhan Zheng, Joanna Moody, Shenhao Wang, and Jinhua Zhao , Transportation Research Board 99th Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., (2020)

Beijing's license plate lottery policy was originally designed to curb the growth of local vehicle population. However, the avoidance behaviors such as local residents registering their cars in neighboring cities offsets the policy effect. Using the city-level data collected from the CEIC China Premium Database, this study quantitatively identifies the causal effect of the implementation of Beijing's car ownership restriction policy on the growth of private vehicles in neighboring cities. We...

How does Ridesourcing Substitute for Public Transit? A geospatial perspective in Chengdu, China, Hui Kong, Xiaohu Zhang, and Jinhua Zhao , Journal of Transport Geography, (2020)

The explosive growth of ridesourcing services has stimulated a debate on whether they represent a net substitute for or a complement to public transit. Among the empirical evidence that supports discussion of the net effect at the city level, analysis at the disaggregated level from a geospatial perspective is lacking. It remains unexplored the spatiotemporal pattern of ridesourcing’s effect on public transit, and the factors that impact the effect. Using DiDi Chuxing data in Chengdu, China...

Is Ridesourcing More Efficient than Taxis?, Hui Kong, Xiaohu Zhang, and Jinhua Zhao , Applied Geography, (2020)

Ridesourcing services such as Uber, Lyft, and DiDi are purported to be more efficient than traditional taxis because they can match passengers with drivers more effectively. Previous studies have compared the efficiency of ridesourcing and taxis in several cities. However, gaps still exist regarding the measurement and comparison between the two modes, and the reasons for the higher efficiency of ridesourcing have not been empirically examined. This paper aims to measure, compare, and...

What prompts the adoption of car restriction policies among Chinese cities, Shenhao Wang, Joanna Moody, and Jinhua Zhao , International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, (2020)

Facing rapid motorization, many Chinese municipalities are implementing policies that restrict car ownership or use. However, there is significant variation in terms of which cities adopt these policies and when. This research systematically investigates what factors prompt local governments in China to adopt these car restriction policies. We collect a database of car restriction policies as well as economic, demographic, land use, and transportation indicators for 287 Chinese...

Transportation Policymaking in Beijing and Shanghai: Contributors, Obstacles, and Process, Jungwoo Chun, Joanna Moody, and Jinhua Zhao , Case Studies on Transport Policy, (2019)

With continued motorization and urbanization in Chinese cities, there is a growing demand for innovative transportation policies at the city level to address the challenges of congestion, local air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Using Beijing and Shanghai as case studies, this paper draws on 32 in-depth semi-structured interviews with municipal government officials, academics, and transportation professionals to explore the city-level transportation policymaking process in Chinese...

Transportation Policy Profiles of Chinese City Clusters: A Mixed Method Approach, Joanna Moody, Shenhao Wang, Jungwoo Chun, Xuenan Ni, and Jinhua Zhao , Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, (2019)

Chinese cities have experienced diverse urbanization and motorization trends that present distinct challenges for municipal transportation policymaking. However, there is no systematic understanding of the unique motorization and urbanization trends of Chinese cities and how physical characteristics map to their transportation policy priorities. We adopt a mixed-method approach to address this knowledge gap. We conduct a time-series clustering of 287 Chinese cities using eight indicators of...

Legitimacy vs morality: Why do the Chinese obey the law?, Jingkang Gao, and Jinhua Zhao , Law and Human Behavior, Volume 42, Issue 2, (2018)

This study explored two aspects of the rule of law in China: (1) motivations for compliance with 4 groups of everyday laws and regulations and (2) determinants of the legitimacy of legal authorities. We applied a structural equations model, constructed from Tyler’s conceptual process-based self-regulation model with morality added as a motivation, to online questionnaire responses from 1,000 Shanghai drivers. We explored the compliance with four particular groups of laws: public disturbance...

Distributional Effects of Lotteries and Auctions —License Plate Regulations in Guangzhou, Shenhao Wang, and Jinhua Zhao , Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 11/2017, Volume 106, p.473–483, (2017)

Lotteries and auctions are common ways of allocating public resources, but they have rarely been used simultaneously in urban transportation policies. This paper presents a unique policy experiment in Guangzhou, China, where lotteries and auctions are used in conjunction to allocate vehicle licenses. Guangzhou introduced vehicle license regulations to control the monthly quota of local automobile growth in 2012. To obtain a license, residents are required to choose between the lottery and...

Shaping Rapidly Growing Chinese Cities: Lessons in the Behavioural Impacts of Transport Finance Choices, Jinhua Zhao, and David Block-Schachter , Improving Urban Access: New Approaches to Funding Transport Investment, London, (2016)

The need to finance urban access to meet mobility needs in both the developed and developing worlds in a sustainable fashion is undeniable. However, the way the money is raised has an impact on travel and location behavior. This chapter focuses on how accessibility can bridge the gap between land-based financing and mobility-based financing.

After examining the theoretical effects of pricing on accessibility, we focus on two Chinese examples. The first case emphasizes the diversity of...

Normative and Image Motivations for Compliance with Sustainable Transportation Policy, Jingkang Gao, and Jinhua Zhao , Urban Studies, (2016)

Compliance with laws and regulations intended to protect common pool resources in the urban context is essential in tackling problems such as pollution and congestion. A high level of non-compliance necessitates an investigation into motivations behind compliance. The long-held instrumental theory emphasising the dependence of compliance on tangible deterrence measures fails to adequately explain empirical findings. More recently...

Fixing China’s Distorted Urban Land Quota System, Yuan Xiao, and Jinhua Zhao , Paulson Institute Policy Memo, Chicago, (2015)

Chinese cities face two related problems: first, a shortage of land available for development, and second, wasted allocation of that land. Taken together, these two problems constrain local economic and social development at a time when cities are growing rapidly. Indeed, more than fifteen years after China decided to marketize land in 1998, China’s land market, to a large extent, remains inefficient. This distortion of China’s urban land market derives mainly from problems of supply. There...

Rise and Decline of the Bicycle in Beijing, Ming Yang, Qiuning Wang, Jinhua Zhao, and John Zacharias , Transportation Research Board 93rd Annual Meeting, (2014)

The strong tradition of bicycle use in Beijing has been in continuous decline since the mid1990s with bicycle share of vehicular traffic dropping from 62.7% in 1986 to 38.5% in 2000 and dropping even lower to 16.4% in 2010. Among various factors contributing to the rise and fall of bicycle use in Beijing, four are identified as having the greatest impact: policy and regulation, built environment, bicycle...

Has Transportation Demand of Shanghai, China, Passed Its Peak Growth?, Zhan Zhao, Jinhua Zhao, and Qing Shen , Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Volume 2394, p.85–92, (2013)

On the basis of four comprehensive transportation surveys in Shanghai, China, this study examined the latest trends in Shanghai's travel demand; investigated their social, economic, and spatial drivers; and compared the pace of travel demand growth in three periods: 1980s to early 1990s, early 1990s to mid-2000s, and mid-2000s to the present. The demand growth was relatively slow in the first period and then sped up in the second before it returned to a slower pace in the third period. As...

Lotteries vs. Auctions: China’s Experiments in Managing Automobile Growth, David Block-Schachter, and Jinhua Zhao , Asia Pacific Memo, Number 4 April 2015, Vancouver, (2013)

The astronomical growth in the number of private cars in China has led to very visible environmental crises and congestion. But the nationwide increase conceals crucial policy differences between cities that influence effectiveness, revenue, efficiency, equity and public acceptance.  While Shanghai and Beijing each had approximately 2 million motor vehicles in 2004, by 2010 Beijing had 4.8 million versus Shanghai’s 3.1 million.  By 2011, 38% of Beijing households were vehicle owners in...

Team Members

Jungwoo Chun's picture
PhD Student
Shan Jiang's picture
Postdoctoral Associate
Paul Kishimoto's picture
PhD Candidate
Joanna Moody's picture
Research Scientist
Xuenan Ni's picture
MCP/MST student
Shenhao Wang's picture
Postdoctoral Associate
Liyan Xu's picture
Rachel Luo's picture
MCP/MST Student
Jinhua Zhao's picture
Professor of Cities and Transportation