Growing urban centers are readily embracing BRT concepts. Forexample, in Lanzhou, a northwestern city of 3.3 million, a comprehensive transport project will link a new city center with a rapid bus transport system. The CleanTech Group indicates that the project will create 22 kilometers of bus lanes, and include the installation of advanced traffic control and pollution monitoring systems. Chinese officials are expecting the project to cost $480 million and be completed by the end of 2014.
The Chinese government is also promoting the use of vehicles powered by non-petroleum alternatives such as biofuels, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG) and electricity. According to the ADB report, as of 2005, China had a total of 97,200 CNG vehicles, with light-duty vehicles (cars) accounting for 48 percent and buses 52 percent. Although relatively small in terms of overall numbers, CNG- and LPG-fueled vehicles are starting to make a positive impact on vehicle emissions in some cities. This is largely due to the government’s emphasis on targeting buses and other fleet vehicles, such as taxis, for CNG and LPG use.
Chengdu is one such example of where such emphasis is bearing results. Back in May, the Chengdu Commercial Daily newspaper reported the city debuted its first fully electric-powered bus. The 12-meter-long bus is designed to carry 70 passengers and travel 260 kilometers before needing to recharge. A city bus generally travels no more than 260 kilometers per day. The city of 11 million people plans to phase out gas-powered governmental vehicles and replace them with electric vehicles. Guidelines for the electric vehicle industry in the city of Chengdu state that by 2012, 250 electric-powered buses, 1,300 electric-powered cabs and 350 electric-powered state vehicles should be in use.
Bio-ethanol gasoline, a mixture of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, is also being used in China. Currently, several Chinese provinces have made the fuel mandatory at local petrol pumps. Overall, the National Development and Reform Commission predicted that Chinese consumption of alternative fuels will reach 10 million tons by 2020, accounting for 15 percent of the demand in the transport sector.
Despite these efforts, China is still the world’s fastest-growing oil consumer. The goal is to keep China’s total oil consumption below 400 million metric tons per year.
An Expanding Rail Network
On an urban scale, the railway system has seen tremendous growth over the past two decades. Up until 1989, the country had just three metro lines: two in Beijing and one in Tianjin. Since then, 22 metro or light rail lines were constructed in 10 cities. According to the ADB report, 36 additional urban rail transport lines (for a total length of 1,500 kilometers and at a cost of $67 billion) are under construction in 15 different cities. In Beijing, three new subway lines, and a light rail connecting downtown and the airport were added in preparation for the Olympics. Meanwhile in Shanghai, plans for the 2010 World Expo included expanding the metro system and linking sections of the city with the airport via a Maglev train.
Maglev — short for “magnetic levitation” — is a transportation technology in which a magnetized coil running along the track (called a guideway) repels large magnets on the train’s undercarriage. This allows the train to levitate above the guideway. Once the train is levitated, power is supplied to the coils within the guideways, creating a system of magnetic fields that pull and push the train along the corridor. Since Maglev trains float on a cushion of air, there is minimal friction, which allows the trains to travel at extraordinarily high speeds.
The first commercial Maglev train made its test debut in Shanghai in 2002 and its first commercial run about a year later. The train currently runs to and from the Longyang Road station (located southeast of the city center) and Pudong airport. Traveling at an average speed of 430 kilometers per hour, the 30-kilometer journey takes less than 10 minutes.
The placement of these light rail networks and their interface with other transportation modes are also planned in an effort to further optimize their efficiencies. For example, the ADB report describes how passenger transport is separated from freight on busy truck lines to increase capacity and improve service levels.