Registering a car in the southeastern Chinese city of Guangzhou is not for the thin of wallet. A July auction for new car license plates fetched a whopping 35,000 yuan ($5,500), around three times the price at the beginning of the year.
Would-be drivers are understandably miffed.
Since 2012, the city government has restricted registrations of new cars, issuing a limited number of license plates through public auctions and lotteries in an effort to unclog Guangzhou's roads.
A 40-year-old man who works for U.S. sporting goods maker said he was very lucky to have secured a license plate at the auction in January. He gave up on the lottery and decided to buy one at a monthly auction. "As I had saved enough money to buy a new car, I wanted to start driving as soon as possible." His successful bid cost him 10,500 yuan, but he is happy. Six months later it would have cost 35,000 yuan.
In an attempt to avoid paying extra for a plate, many Guangzhou residents buy and register cars in neighboring cities. The number of such drivers has surged since 2012 when the city began restricting the issue of new license plates. That has hurt authorities' efforts to ease congestion.
Now the city is considering banning cars without Guangzhou license plates from the city center during rush hour. Worried drivers responded by pushing up the price of plates at auctions.
Guangzhou also taken other measures to keep traffic flowing. It raised parking fees by up to 60% over the past year and began fining drivers 100 yuan for honking their horns. It is considering a total ban on driving or selling electric motor scooters in the city.
The restrictions are ironic, given how much the area has benefited from cars. Guangzhou is a hub for both China and the world's auto industry. It hosts large factories built by Japanese carmakers Toyota Motor, Nissan Motor and Honda Motor.
Volkswagen of Germany also recently built a factory near Guangzhou, while Chinese major carmaker BYD has its headquarters in Shenzhen, about 100km away.