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Big hopes for urban public transportation
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13:24, August 03, 2007

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The country will do more to develop its mass transit systems to reduce energy consumption and pollution, a senior official said.

Regulations are being drafted to guarantee favorable policies and financial support for the development of urban public transport, Qiu Baoxing, vice-minister of construction, said at a conference yesterday in Beijing.

The ministry is also planning to reform the financing mechanism for mass transit systems, which include buses, subways and light rail lines, he told the first International Congress on China Urban Transportation Development, which ends tomorrow.

"We welcome capital investments from home and abroad in our urban mass transit systems," he said.

And the authorities are considering giving firms special permits to run mass transit systems as a way of ensuring returns on their investment, he said.

"The urban public transport market is worth 1.4 trillion yuan ($185 billion)," he said.

Urban rail transit systems are now considered a key solution to public transport problems in big cities.

Fifteen cities are laying out a total of 1,500 km of rails during the 11th Five-Year plan (2006-10), at a cost of 500 billion yuan, he said.

Wang De, a professor at Tongji University, said in an interview with China Daily that the country faces a huge shortfall in funding for the construction of urban public transport systems.

All urban public transport systems are now run by government or State-owned enterprises, but the mass transit plan will require more capital inputs.

"If more private funds are brought into circulation, the money problem will be solved. In addition, private companies usually run mass transit systems better than the government," he said.

The ministry first started promoting its urban mass transit policy a few years ago, but it has yet to have much effect at the local level, said Guo Xiaobei, an expert with the National Development and Reform Commission's Institute of Comprehensive Transport.

Rail transit systems in major cities are lagging behind those in the big cities of Western countries. To date, only 10 cities in China have urban rail transit systems. Their combined length is 621 km, which is similar to the length of London's system alone.

Qiu said the ministry's policy of prioritizing mass transit was the best solution for the country's transport concerns.

Each year, about 18 million people move into cities from the countryside, and the trend is expected to continue over next two decades.

Meanwhile, private car ownership has been increasing by 10 percent a year, causing serious traffic jams. In some big cities, the average speed of vehicles during rush hours is only 5 kmp, the same speed as walking.

Source: China Daily

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