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Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Ticket to Eased Congestion

In the run up to the Beijing 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government proceeded to ban around 50% of cars from Beijing's busy roads in an effort to reduce pollution in the city. As Reuters reported, drivers were banned on alternate days depending on whether their car's number plate ended in an odd or even digit, a move that cost city authorities around 189 million dollars in lost road and vehicle taxes. To ease congestion further, an additional 3 extra subway lines (the Olympic Branch Line, the Airport Express, and Line 10) were also added to the Beijing transport network in preparation for the extra visitor footfall, with estimates suggesting the improved subway system was able to accommodate an additional 4 million passengers each day.

While Beijing was able to generally cope with the visitor surge during the Olympics, since then the subway system has continued to get busier. With the Beijing government willing to subsidise its citizenry's travel (journeys cost Beijing residents only 2 jiao- the equivalent of about 2 British pence), using public transport is by far the cheapest option for travel in the city. Day after day, thousands of Chinese frequent the subway stations in the centre of the city and, while the experience is no worse (and perhaps better) than networks like the London Underground, at peak time overcrowding on trains can be a problem.

With this in mind, it comes as little surprise that this week an announcement by the Beijing Subway Construction and Administration Corporation detailed the opening of a new line linking Beijing's Fangshan suburb to the main subway network (as reported by Xinhua). The 25 km Fangshan Line is expected to be operational by the end of 2010, by which point the total track length of Beijing's subway network will be approximately 300 km.

This sustained investment by the city's authorities in public transport is sign that pollution remains a pressing concern for China's sprawling urban areas. With major traffic problems developing into a huge 100 km traffic jam earlier this week on one of China's main expressways, there are multiple signs that the development of the country's transport infrastructure has not kept pace with the rapidly rising number of cars on China's roads. As migration from rural to urban areas continues to swell the populations of cities like Beijing and Shanghai, further investment will be needed if traffic problems are to be prevented from becoming a major hindrance to the Chinese economy.

To find out more about Beijing's subway system, click here.

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