Most Chinese Cities Don’t Need And Can’t Afford The Subway Systems They’re Building
The Economist | Apr. 29, 2013, 10:30 AM | 1,604 | 7
NOT many global cities of nearly 9m people lack an underground line, but until the end of last year the eastern city of Hangzhou was one of them. Now city slickers and rural migrants squeeze together inside shiny new carriages, checking their smartphones and reading free newspapers like commuters the world over. There is standing-room only in the rush hour and, with tickets at less than a dollar, the metro is revolutionising the way people travel across town. Two other Chinese cities—Suzhou and Kunming—have also opened their first underground lines in the past year, and the north-eastern city of Harbin is preparing to open one too. Four more cities have just added a new line to their existing systems. At least seven others have begun building their first lines.
If all the metros approved by central officials are built, 38 cities will have at least one line by the end of the decade, with more than 6,200km (3,850 miles) of track (London has nearly 400km.) As with many infrastructure projects in China, including the high-speed rail network above ground, questions abound about the wisdom and potential wastefulness of such ambitions. Many of the underground systems are needed, but some are being built in cities that are too small to justify the exorbitant expense. By some estimates the total bill could approach $1 trillion, not including the cost of operation. Zhao Jian of Beijing Jiaotong University reckons that metros in fewer than 20 of the 38 designated cities make sense. He says that perhaps ten of those could be replaced with cheaper light rail, which runs above ground. The minimum core urban population that can qualify a city for an underground system is 3m people, but even a place that big may find the operating costs crippling. Mr Zhao says the systems in Harbin and Kunming are unnecessary. Read more of this post