Capital's subways and buses strain to serve its fast-growing population, Zheng Jinran reports.
Beijing resident Shi Chao leaves home before 7 am and waits for the bus to take him to the subway station. Raising safety awareness
Commuters must enhance their safety awareness as subway usage increases, transport and security analysts said.
Emergencies such as fires and natural disasters cannot be entirely avoided so it is important to ensure that every passenger avoids taking dangerous or hazardous items on trains and knows the location of exits, said Pei Yan, an associate professor specializing in subway security at People's Public Security University of China. Some subway passengers carry knives, which are not banned under Chinese law, but these items can be potential safety risks on public transport, Pei said.
"Some people also take pets, including frogs and snakes, or goods with pungent smells, on subways. It's irresponsible because these things may arouse panic and result in disorder underground," she said.
Safety and security might be compromised if such passengers continue their behavior, she said.
"Relying solely on security devices is far from enough," she said.
Guo Taisheng, another security specialist in the university, also suggested that passengers figure out escape routes once they take the subway or arrive at a new location.
"It's vital for people to know where the safety exits are," he said.
More subway staff are also needed to manage and control passenger flow, especially during rush hour, the analysts said. Signs pointing out the emergency exits must also be displayed prominently, they said.
In recent months, security incidents including terrorist attacks in some railway stations have highlighted the importance of security in public transport.
Beijing's subway system has adopted the strictest efforts to prevent potential security risks since July, operators said.
By Cao Yin
He then transfers from Line 1 to Line 10, passing 22 stations. The trip takes at least 50 minutes in a packed carriage where he can hardly move.
After that, it is another crowded bus ride in traffic jams before he reaches his office.
Shi's daily commute from his apartment outside the capital's West Fifth Ring Road to his company near the Northeast Fourth Ring Road takes him about two hours covering more than 50 kilometers.
The 28-year-old has been going through the ordeal since 2009, when he arrived in Beijing from his hometown in Shanxi province.
"It's quite common to wait for several subway carriages before I manage to squeeze into a spot on one of them," Shi said.
"Fortunately, I've got used to this daily 'long march'," he said, referring to the historic 10,000-km trek of the Chinese communists in their fight against the Nationalist forces.
Shi is just one of the millions of commuters in the Chinese capital who battle daily with rush hour through a fast-developing but increasingly strained public transport system.
Xu Fang, who lives in Yanjiao at the border area between Beijing and Hebei province, spends about two hours every day taking taxis and the subway to her office in the northeast of the capital, in the opposite direction of her home.
The 30-year-old has been making the trip to her company for the past few days.
But unlike Shi, she has had enough.
"I cannot bear another day like this. I'm moving to a place nearer my office," said the native of Sichuan province.
For Wang Pengfei, an insurance company employee, the many altercations between frustrated passengers on the packed subway have also become routine.
"I nearly suffocated once in the carriage and had to get out halfway to breathe properly," said the 29-year-old, recalling a day in 2011 when there was no air conditioning on the trains.
There have been an increasing number of stories about Beijing's crowded subways and public buses hitting the headlines.
At the Tiantongyuan and Huilongguan subway stations in the north, where residential communities are concentrated, more than 20,000 commuters flooded the stops in two hours, setting a record last November.
Many commuters in January reported spending more than 30 minutes before actually reaching the waiting area for the trains in the stations.
A report from Peking University showed that residents in Beijing spent the longest time commuting, about 1.32 hours a day for work on average in 2012, followed by residents in Shanghai and Tianjin, both traveling about 1.1 hours.
Coping with growth
Beijing, as the country's capital, was the first city to have a subway. Many believe the head start has also developed into the most comprehensive urban public transport network in China.
City authorities started planning for a subway system in 1953 and completed China's first metro Subway Line 1 - in 1969. By the end of 2013, the capital had 17 operating subway lines totaling 462 kilometers (excluding line S2), with 277 stations. Passenger capacity reached 3.2 billion in 2013, statistics from the Beijing Transportation Research Center showed.
Beijing's public bus network has also developed swiftly, making it one of the busiest urban transport systems in the country. By the end of 2013, the city had 785 bus lines, covering both downtown districts as well as suburban areas.
More than 4.63 billion passengers had taken the buses in 2013, based on a report from Beijing Public Transport Holdings, which is in charge of the major operation of the capital's ground public transportation system.
Though the combined annual passenger capacity for public buses has exceeded 7.8 billion, many say that is still not enough to satisfy travel demand. Complains about frequent traffic jams and overcrowded subways and buses continue to be hot topics among residents.
Beijing has also been growing larger with increasing pressure from the population. Its residential population has risen from 13.6 million in 2000 to 21.1 million in 2013. The flood of visitors during holidays has worsened the burden on public transport.
Since July 2013, the record passenger flow in a day has hit 11.05 million. Commuters were concentrated during the rush hours, accounting for 45 percent of the total every day, figures from the Beijing Subway Group showed.
In response, the municipal government released a document at the end of 2013 requiring the distribution of the pressure from rush hour.
The major tool for that should be a differentiated pricing system, it said.
"The integration of the bus and metro systems is also not ideal," said Li Xian, deputy director of the Beijing Transportation Research Center, a think tank on traffic for the municipal government.
The two systems act more like competitors instead, Li said. Improving access
Guo Taisheng, a professor at People's Public Security University of China, conducted research on subway security in Shanghai in May and found a few gaps.
He suggested adding more exits to improve security.
Shanghai's Renmin Guangchang subway station handles about 3 million visits a day but it has more than 20 exits, "which can effectively split crowded passenger flow and provide more convenience for commuters", Guo told China Daily.
Commuters in Japan and Hong Kong can head directly to their destinations underground because almost every tall building or major plaza is connected to an exit in the subway stations, he said.
The well-extended subway lines of Tokyo serve as a good example. More than 100 subway stations exits are distributed at the station area and in neighboring commercial spots, Guo said.
Conversely, most Beijing subway stations have only four exits, which cannot effectively handle the increasing number of passengers and can pose as security or safety risks when emergencies occur.
The exits are also scattered around the business area instead of directly accessing commercial buildings, especially those in the CBD areas.
The design similarly overloads ground traffic since many commuters will transfer to buses to get to their destinations, said Li Xian, deputy director of the Beijing Transportation Research Center.
"The exits and extended underground passages are better for connecting more commercial buildings like offices and shopping malls to reduce traffic flow on the roads," she said.
By Zheng Jinran and Cao Yin
The State-owned bus enterprises echoed that view, saying that many people preferred to take the subway even for short distances, resulting in a decline in the number of bus passengers in recent years.
Nan Tao from Beijing Public Transport Holdings said the number of passengers in ground public traffic (mainly buses) has declined continually, dropping by 37 million in the past five years.
Statistics from the research center showed that in 2013, 32.7 percent of passengers taking the subway traveled within 10 kilometers, and about 60 percent traveled no farther than 16 kilometers.
"The buses are recommended for short distance trips (within 10 kilometers), and the metro for longer ones. But many passengers have drifted to the metro because of its low price," said Li, the deputy director.
Beijing Public Transport Holdings agreed. The enterprise added that improper distribution of passenger flow also brought lower revenues, affecting the performance of the municipal transport system.
Ma Boyi, spokesman for the Transportation Administration of Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, told People's Daily that it wanted to use prices to improve the travel structure with decentralized departures, to guide more people to take buses for short distances, thus making subway trips safer and more comfortable.
The various government departments, think tanks and transport companies have mentioned the use of a differentiated pricing system to deal with current transport problems, pointing to high expectations of improving the overcrowded subway and less-popular public buses.
In 2000, when the price of a subway ride rose from 2 yuan to 3 yuan, the total number of passengers taking the trains dropped by 400 million in a year. But when the price was lowered to 2 yuan in 2007, the number began to climb and has increased by up to 30 percent.
Many also believe that the financial burden is a major reason behind the potential rise in prices since the transport companies seldom reported profits. Beijing Public Transport Holdings reported revenue of about 2.5 billion yuan ($408 million) from bus tickets in 2013, while its operating costs reached 17 billion yuan. The metro companies also reported a large deficit, with income at about 3.2 billion yuan in 2013 and spending hitting more than 6.6 billion yuan.
The municipal budget report showed that subsidies for public transportation hit about 20 billion yuan in 2013 to guarantee its normal operation for millions of residents.
Average expenses on public transportation in Beijing are also relatively lower than those in other Chinese cities as well as foreign ones.
Under current pricing, Beijing residents spent 87 yuan a month on the subway, accounting for 2.6 percent of their disposable income on average; or 40 yuan a month for those taking buses, accounting for 1.2 percent, a report from the research center showed.
"Based on international experience, it's reasonable to keep the expenses on public traffic between 5 and 10 percent of their disposable income," Li said.
"Though the cost would grow, it's still affordable," said Beijing commuter Shi Chao.
"But the government needs to guarantee that the buses and subways run on time and are comfortable."
Like Shi, more than half of the 40,000 suggestions from a public consultation in July on transport prices expressed support for price increases. But there were disagreements on details, including the range of increase, discounts for traffic card users, and subsidies for special-needs passengers like the elderly and people with disabilities.
"The price for the subway should be different in line with the distance traveled. The farther, the higher," said Li Xian from the government think tank. The difference in prices can guide passengers traveling short distances to take public buses instead, Li said.
Pricing by distance has been widely adopted both in domestic and foreign cities. In Shanghai, the price for a subway ride starts at 3 yuan and goes up to 11 yuan.
"Special needs passengers should be given subsidies directly instead being given free passes," Li said. The subsidies will also help improve the accuracy of research on usage to continually improve the system and its benefits, Li said.
Bus companies also suggested price differentiations based on distance. The current price for most trips is one yuan, or 0.4 yuan for passengers with travel cards, the lowest in the country.
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