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Sustainable Transport in Shanghai

Creating a sustainable transportation system is a massive issue for major cities – Shanghai’s network is no exception. Its crowded roads result in insufferable traffic jams and car exhaust accounts for 70 per cent of all air pollution. With the middle class continuing to expand, the real challenge facing Shanghai transport authorities over the next ten years will be convincing commuters to leave their cars at home. Thankfully this behemoth process is already underway as of last spring, when the central government pledged USD 150 billion to improving urban transport throughout China. This month’s Green TALK takes a closer look at a few of the initiatives which may take us a few steps closer to a sustainable Shanghai.

Flexi-fare Cabs

The Shanghai Traffic Bureau is considering a move to a flexible taxi fare system, which would increase taxi fares during rush hours whilst lowering them at off-peak times. However questions have been raised as to whether flexible fares would provide cab companies with enough additional income in peak hours to offset the loss in earnings from a reduced rate at other times. It is also questionable whether higher fares would have the desired effect of pushing commuters onto Shanghai’s metro and bus networks.

Expanded Metro System

Adding to the 423 kilometres of track and 273 stations already in place is probably the best hope for a more sustainable city. The Shanghai People’s Congress declared it would like to see 50 per cent of all commuters use public transport by 2015, and more tracks means more passengers. However Yang Xiaoguang, director of Shanghai-based Intelligent Transportation Systems Research Centre, has said that unless more is done to improve the metro network, this target is likely to fall short.

A faster train is also likely. Currently running at speeds of 70 kilometres per hour, newer trains on select lines will be able to reach speeds of 160 kilometres per hour, significantly bringing down commuting times and making public transport more attractive. Shanghai’s metro is currently the largest subway system in the world, but there are plans to further extend the lines by 80 kilometres in the next two years, with a long term target of 22 lines and 877 kilometres by 2020.

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are not without their sceptics – including stalwarts of the environmental movement. Greenpeace has stated that “an increase in electric cars is likely to lead to greater production in nuclear power plants, gas and coal, without necessarily reducing gasoline demand for non-EV cars.” Furthermore, the public perception of electric cars may also prove a barrier to their wider implementation. McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, recently conducted a survey of Shanghai residents showing electric cars are seen as a trendy purchase rather than a green alternative. Changing the image of electric vehicles will be paramount to any future success.

The Future

“One of the keys to igniting the green auto sector is to industrialise the domestically researched technology,” Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng said earlier this year. “These vehicles are currently expensive, which puts buyers off.” If production of electric cars increases, the overall cost of production will fall, making them more affordable to the public. Recently, state news agency Xinhua reported lithium-ion battery car production is expected to reach one million units by 2020, possibly boosted by the introduction of subsidies of up to RMB 60,000. To put this in perspective, China is presently the world’s largest auto market with over 13.6 million car sales sold in 2009. While a million cars spread over nearly a decade is a drop in the bucket, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction. Lastly, a recent government announcement of plans to spend USD 15 billion improving support infrastructure for electric vehicles, including charging stations, is further good news. Although a sustainable transport network throughout Shanghai may seem a long way off, if the government, investors and (ultimately) the public are serious about reducing the city’s traffic snarls and polluted skies, then a better tomorrow could be right around the corner.


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