Beijing gives priority to buses

Posted: 8 February 2007

Author: Ling Li

In an effort to cut private car use and promote pubic transport, the Chinese government will provide a total of 1.3 billion yuan (US$167 million) this year to help Beijing's bus companies reduce fares to only 1 yuan (US$0.13) per ride.

Passengers and students using the "smart card," an electronic debit card for transportation, will pay even less - only 40 cents (US$0.05) and 20 cents (US$.025), respectively, Xinhua News reports. The new subsidy measure is being called "a revolutionary step in Beijing's public transport planning" and aims to reduce private car use and ultimately relieve the city's infamous traffic jams.

Reducing the bus fare is only the first step in Beijing's public transport reform; other measures in line include reorganizing the existing bus network, developing additional transit systems, and building 26 free or low-cost parking lots near subways and bus stops to encourage drivers to take public transport to downtown areas. The city is also home to China's first bus rapid transit (BRT) system, a 16-kilometre-long section that opened in December 2004.

Learning by doing

But for Beijing residents who already drive a car, convenience, punctuality, and the overall quality of the bus service are typically more important than the fare itself. Nearly 70 per cent of the city's roads are occupied with cars, while buses take up about only 10 per cent of this space, according to Xiaoming Liu, vice director of Beijing Transportation Bureau. Beijing was home to an estimated 2.87 million motor vehicles at the end of 2006, an increase of 370,000 from the previous year, and the figure is predicted to reach 3.8 million by 2010.

In 2006, the local government spent nearly 11.7 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) on improving and expanding roads, subways, and other road facilities in Beijing, mainly to accommodate the surge in car use. But policymakers realise the limitations of these efforts, and the city is now placing unprecedented emphasis on public transport. This year alone, it plans to invest nearly 4.15 billion yuan (US$535 million) to subsidise public buses, optimise bus routes, and improve bus services; another 8 billion yuan (US$103 million) will be used to further develop the transit system.

Beijing has now given public transport a strategic position in the city's sustainable development planning, and recognizes that this service should be provided as a not-for-profit benefit to society, says Kangming Xu, a transport expert with the Energy Foundation's China Sustainable Energy Program.

Source: Worldwatch Institute China Watch, February 6, 2007. See: www.worldwatch.org