Beijing eyes huge investment in road

By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-19 07:10

Beijing will spend almost half of its transportation infrastructure budget improving its bus system ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in an ambitious bid to avoid becoming a giant parking lot during the event.

As construction crews race against time to build more underground arteries to ease traffic pressure, the capital city is planning to boost its bus system by pouring in billions of yuan.

Chen Nan, a section chief of the Beijing Finance Bureau, said the municipal government would earmark 71.5 billion yuan (US$9.1 billion) to develop public transportation during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-10), representing 45 per cent of the entire transportation infrastructure budget.

The amount is 47.7 billion yuan (US$6.1 billion), or 18 per cent more than the amount provided in the 10th Five-Year Plan period (2000-05), said Li Jianguo, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications.

"That shows the government's determination to give priority to public transportation," Li said.

The move follows a statement from the Ministry of Construction earlier this month, urging the government to promote the development of public transportation and increase financial support.

The statement called on local governments to consider public transportation as a part of social welfare and not to ignore social interests in the pursuit of economic gain.

It also called for more financial support and subsidies for bus companies.

Li also released a plan aimed at optimizing bus routes and reducing fares.

According to the plan, 110 overlapping lines within the third ring road will be scrapped, and the 1,500 buses currently plying those routes will be relocated to connect the more than 300 communities outside the city proper.

Every community that has a population of more than 7,000 people should have access to at least one bus route, Li said.

Li said the goal was to better distribute the city's transportation capability to benefit the "biggest majority."

Li said the large number of overlapping bus routes was the result of chaotic competition between bus operators.

"History has proved that a market-oriented distribution of transportation capabilities will not ease traffic," Li said. "So the government plans to develop the public transportation as a commonwealth."

In a related development, the city has issued two kinds of transit cards for bus customers. The first is a monthly pass allowing commuters 140 trips for 45 yuan (US$5.7). The second card is a deposit card that offers a 20-per-cent discount.

A unified bus fare of 1 yuan (12 US cents) will be adopted at the beginning of next year. Cardholders will receive a 60-per-cent discount.

The city's 593 bus lines currently carry 3.78 million people a day.

It is estimated that more than 95 per cent of bus commuters will benefit from the fare-reduction, Li said.

The one-off loss connected with the policy is estimated to be 1.3 billion yuan (US$166 million), Li said.

Starting in February, visitors in Beijing will be able to purchase three short-term tickets that will be valid for three, seven or 15 days.

The city is also planning to build a series of transportation hubs so people will not have to walk long distances to change buses.

Low-fee parking lots will be constructed around the Third Ring Road to encourage people who drive cars to switch to buses to the inner city.

"This is just the first step of our reform. We will make adjustments as we implement the plan," Li said.

By 2010, the utilization rate of public transportation will be raised to 40 per cent in the capital, Li said.

(China Daily 12/19/2006 page3)

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