| Updated at: 1922 PST, Monday, January 10, 2011|
BEIJING: Over 215,000 people applied for car licences in Beijing this month, but only 20,000 will be issued as the capital seeks to curb its massive traffic jams, state press said on Sunday.
Under a new system aimed at controlling the number of cars on Beijing streets that began this year, applicants must apply in the first eight days of the month for the 20,000 available plates issued monthly.
According to Xinhua news agency, 215,425 people applied for the January allotment. A lottery on January 26 will decide who gets the licences and the right to buy a new car.
Under the new rules, only 240,000 new cars will be registered in Beijing this year, compared to the record 800,000 automobiles that took to the streets of the capital last year, the report said.
Authorities have admitted that the registration cap along with other measures such as higher parking fees in the city centre and stricter enforcement of traffic rules will not automatically ease the chronic gridlock.
Expectations that the government was going to restrict the number of new number plates sparked a surge in sales last month, with more than 20,000 cars sold in the first week of December, state media said.
That was more than double the 9,000 cars sold in the same period in 2009.
Beijing's air is among the most polluted in the world and the problem is getting worse amid high demand for private vehicles from increasingly affluent residents.
The number of registered cars in Beijing stood at 4.8 million in late December as an average of over 2,000 new cars hit the capital's streets every day last year, officials said.
But the current congestion is already so severe that parts of the city often resemble parking lots.
On a single evening in September, a record 140 traffic jams were observed as the number of vehicles on Beijing's streets exceeded 4.5 million.
China's auto sales are likely to reach 18 million units in 2010, up 32 percent from the previous year, when the nation took the title of the world's top auto market from the United States.