Revolutionising Asian public transportIn 2010 Guangzhou built a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that won the 2011 International Sustainable Transport Award. Moving more than 27,000 passengers per hour in a single direction and with more than 800,000 boardings per day, it is second in capacity only to the BRT systems of Bogota and Curitiba. Guangzhou is one of many Chinese cities now investing in public transport to slow the increase of vehicle traffic.
Keywords: BRT, China, public transport, TOD, cycling
Traditionally Chinese cities have had a high percentage of green transport, mainly due to bicycle traffic, which constitutes more than half of all journeys. China is the world’s top bicycling country with a fleet of 430 million and a production in 2007 of 90 million out of a world total of 130 million (see also Amsterdam). Electric bicycles have also become an important means of transport with 21 million sold in 2008. There were around 120 million electric bicycles on the road in 2011, compared to the 70 million cars.
Yet more and more Chinese are now acquiring private cars, a big problem for congestion. When Beijing decided to promote increased car transport the city was challenged by a group of Chinese scientists who concluded that China does not have enough land to accommodate the automobile and feed its people.
Public transport trend
This is why many Chinese cities have now begun to expand public transport, investing in various forms of transport-oriented development (TOD) (see also Portland and Vancouver). Beijing’s public transport was expected to reach a 40% share of trips in 2010, half of which rail-based. The city is also one of eight that have built a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, a concept developed first in Curitiba and Bogota (see also Curitiba and Bogotá). BRT is both faster and has higher capacity than traditional bus traffic by means of several measures: dedicated bus lanes, frequent departures, ticket control before boarding, raised platforms, etc. BRT has the same capacity as light rail traffic, and seven times more per lane than private cars, but it is cheaper and more flexible than light rail.
Guangzhou is one of the Chinese cities investing heavily in public transport. Since the turn of the millennium, city authorities have built five new underground rail systems, and now it is the first Chinese city considering congestion taxes. Its new BRT system has become the backbone in its public transport efforts. Inaugurated in 2010, Guangzhou’s system received the international Sustainable Transport Award in 2011 from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), as the city that had best developed its green traffic for the previous year.
Guangzhou’s BRT entails a 22.5 km long corridor through the city, connecting to underground rail stations and bicycle lanes, integrated with bicycle parking and with the city’s bicycle rental programme (see also Paris). Its system capacity of more than 27,000 passengers per hour in a single direction, and more than 800,000 boardings per day, is outdone only by the systems in Bogota and Curitiba.
In addition to this, Guangzhou’s BRT system has the world’s highest number of passengers per bus, the highest frequency of buses, and the longest platforms. It also is one of the most modern BRT systems, evaluated according to a number of qualitative parameters (which increase the flow and improve the environment and the entire traffic system). Guangzhou authorities are partnering with the ITDP and its citizens to improve it further.
Local popular support
Karl Fjellstrom, regional director of ITDP China, has stated that Guangzhou is revolutionising the idea of bus transport, in China as well as internationally. Before Guangzhou’s throughput of 27,000 passengers per hour, no BRT system in Asia had been able to transport more than 8,000 passengers per hour in each direction. Two stations have more than 70,000 passengers a day, more than many BRTs achieve system-wide. Its high-quality station design, radical bus prioritization, and integration with cycling traffic are also impressive. The system has powerful local support, and in Fjellstrom's words, Guangzhou has created a million new BRT experts.
In recent years, many new BRT systems have been built in developing countries, e.g. Lima (Peru), Leon and Mexico City (Mexico), Jakarta (Indonesia), Tehran (Iran), Johannesburg (South Africa) - the first in Africa, and Ahmedabad (India) - the first in India.
Colin Hughes, Xianyuan Zhu, 2011, Guangzhou, China Bus Rapid Transit: Emissions Impact Analysis, ITDP, http://www.itdp.org/documents/20110810-ITDP-GZBRTImpacts.pdf
Jessica Morris, Stephanie Lotshaw, “Guangzhou wins 2011 Sustainable Transport Award for innovative transport solutions”, Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP), January 25 2011, http://www.itdp.org/news/guangzhou-wins-2011-sustainable-transport-award-for-innovative-transpo/
Claudia Gunter, “Guangzhou Opens Asia’s Highest Capacity BRT System”, Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP), March 5 2010, http://www.itdp.org/news/guangzhou-opens-highest-capacity-brt/
Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute, 2009, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, First edition, W. W. Norton & Company, http://www.earth-policy.org/images/uploads/book_files/pb4book.pdf
The Climate Group, 2010, China Clean Revolution Report III: Low Carbon Development in Cities, Summary, December 2010, http://www.theclimategroup.org/_assets/files/China-Clean-Revolution-III.pdf
China Bus Rapid Transit, Guangzhou, ITDP, http://www.chinabrt.org/en/cities/guangzhou.aspx
Bus Rapid Transit, Chapter in TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2011, http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm120.htm
Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unup/unup/index_panel2.html