Monday, April 12, 2010

Cars suck

If true, this bit from Global Times is the best news I've heard all week:

The daily average of 5 hours of congested traffic is due to the inadequate public transportation system, according to a new report by Beijing's Political Consultative Conference.

The city has responded to the public transport shortcomings, saying it will increase the frequency of subway trains and will offer 80,000 bicycles to hire free of charge. Insiders say the city has stepped up efforts to promote "green ways to get on the road."

Yes to free bikes (I refer you now to a City Weekend article I wrote about public bike sharing in Beijing). Big yes to train frequency.

But a couple things:

1. FIVE HOURS of congested traffic? Well, I don't exactly know what that means (how does one define "congested"? where are the city limits?), but it seems like an adequately ridiculous
length of time to warrant the all-caps.

2. "Inadequate public transportation" doesn't seem like it's the cause of congested traffic. Dumbasses buying cars is the cause. And they buy cars here for some of the sorriest reasons imaginable, like, "I need a car to get a girlfriend." Uh-huh.

Also, I'm not sure I buy this "inadequate" argument. Beijing has one of the best bus systems I've encountered. Sure, it's a bit hard to figure out sometimes, and it's not as convenient for foreigners who can't tell Dongzhimen from Dongshimen, but you can, theoretically, get from any point in the city to anywhere else via bus, as long as you don't mind occasionally waiting behind cars stuck in traffic.

Of course, no public transportation system is perfect (New York City's is fairly perfect, though it's a bit overextended and may collapse upon itself unless people quit complaining about MTA's price increases and just understand how lucky they are to have so many trains at their service)*. It'll take longer going from Point A to B when you're stopping a dozen times in between, but that's why you can, say, bring a book to read. The alternative is trying to get from Point A to B through aneurysm-inducing traffic jams.

The GT article goes on:

Beijing's Political Consultative Conference released its 2009 report on Beijing's transportation system on Friday, concluding that the city's inefficient public transportation system means that commuters rely heavily on private cars. The report said the solution to heavy road congestion is a better public transportation system combining bicycles, buses and the subway.

According to the report, Beijing has about 3,291,000 private cars with an annual growth of 500,000 cars, and 40 percent of them drive less than 5 kilometers every time they hit the road.

Forty percent of them drive less than five kilometers.

...[poo-pooing of public transportation]...

All of these issues mean that the public transportation system is far from efficient and this gives residents an incentive to buy a car, said Mao Baohua, director of the Transportation Research Center of China at Beijing Jiaotong University.

Anyone who's sat in traffic anywhere, to say nothing of Beijing, probably understands why murders can happen. I'm not generally violent, but when I need to travel six kilometers and can't do so within 30 minutes -- I can light-jog six kilometers in 30 minutes -- because the guy in front of me is irritable and driving a car that is behind an irritable guy driving another car behind a guy about to wear out the horn on his car because he's behind an irritable guy of another car, well, things compound and I can easily see myself killing someone, or at least maiming them with repeated kicks to the head.

I think my point is: Beijing traffic is a big DISINCENTIVE for buying cars; "inadequate public transportation" is not an incentive.

But whatever, if this report means shorter waits for subway trains -- not that waits are very long to begin with -- then it can bad-mouth public transport all it wants.

*Alicia tells me Hong Kong has the best public transportation in the world. As someone who just returned from Hong Kong, I believe it. Can't believe I neglected to mention this up there.

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