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UPDATED: December 21, 2013 NO. 34 AUGUST 22, 2013
Is Public Transport Squeezed?


Nie Riming (The Time Weekly): Express buses are nothing new. Capable big companies and institutions have long provided fixed shuttles between their working places and employee communities. In Beijing and Shanghai, the so-called express buses are essentially the same as company shuttles, only that fixed company employees are now city residents from all walks of life. Such residents usually either have to bear high rents for accommodation near their companies, take taxis or bear all kinds of inconvenience such as having to first take a bus to reach the subway and change lines several times within the subway. Such special shuttle service is surely good news.

This inconvenience results from the government's insufficient supply or uneven distribution of public transport resources. Ordinary public transport routes are designed by public transport authorities, which might have failed to notice deep and extensive passenger demand.

In the context of insufficient public transport service supply and poor quality, even if Beijing Public Transport Holdings Ltd. halts its express bus initiative, all kinds of illegal services might be used to meet commuter demands.

However, this does not mean the company is doing the right thing by pushing forward express buses.

These buses target passengers who used to drive private cars or take taxis to work, and who are, generally speaking, quite well-off. A round trip of 20 km may cost every passenger 15 yuan ($2.38), much higher than the ordinary transport fare in Beijing. Therefore, we can hardly imagine that express buses are serving the general public.

Moreover, express buses in Beijing would be allowed to use bus-only lanes, and in this way, such lanes could be utilized at the cost of public transport resources. While most people struggle over limited resources, a small number are able to seize and enjoy them. Every year, public transport receives a large amount of financial subsidies to provide transport to most people, particularly mid and low-income earners.

While providing public services, the government should proceed from taxpayers' interests and continue to improve operations catering to market demand, so as to meet the demands of the majority.

Han Xinyuan (www.chiacourt.org): Express buses are an innovation in public service and also a trial for improvement. It will surely help solve some serious problems facing commuters during rush hour. While bringing convenience and comfort, express buses can also reduce the use of private cars, which is good for environmental protection.

However, with traffic inconvenience and overcrowding remaining a headache in public transport across most big cities, it's too early to push forward such a service.

These buses will not help relieve traffic congestion. Overcrowded streets are mainly due to the rapid pace of urbanization. Excessive expansion of cities, plus the irrational design of some transport routes as well as insufficient infrastructure should all be held responsible for the current embarrassment in public transport.

While transport resources remain limited, express buses offer little relief during peak travel hours. Instead, these buses satisfy a small fraction of demand, while adding more buses to the street, making routes even busier and directly affecting overall urban transport.

The government is offering the general public a type of welfare by providing bus lanes. Express buses could thus easily be regarded as a "transport privilege." Public transport is supposed to serve all people, and is thus at striking element of welfare. No individual or organization is allowed to sell special transport services to certain groups for the sake of making extra money.

Express buses are not suited to the current Chinese transport system. Although it is the target of urban public transport to reach a level of rapid, convenient and comfortable service, currently, it remains a distant goal.

Public transport relates to daily life and thus any progress is supposed to benefit the vast majority of people, not a small group alone. Public transport companies should develop diversified transport service programs so that people no longer regard travel as a serious problem.

Email us at: zanjifang@bjreview.com

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