Three years ago, Yuan Xi, a young white collar worker in Wuhan, China, bought a car and started to drive wherever she went. Like other people, she opted for a car as soon as she could afford it. But now, she commutes by bus and walks or bikes to short-distance destinations.
"Urban transport has developed so fast in recent years,” she says. “One bus ride will take me directly from home to work. Walking and cycling paths have become smoother. Driving less, I’ve saved money on gas.”
China was once known as the "Kingdom of Bicycles”. Today, though, with rapid urbanization and rising incomes, cars reign supreme in cities. In Wuhan, where Yuan lives, the number of motor vehicles reached 1 million and keeps growing.
But this has come at a cost to the environment. More cars mean more pollution, more greenhouse gas emissions and greater demand for land to be used for parking and driving.
World Bank-supported urban transport projects have been helping to address this issue through reforming public transport and overcoming problems that made people less willing to walk or bike. The Wuhan Urban Transport Project, launched in 2004, is reaping benefits.
Making Public Transport a More Attractive Option
To encourage more people to use buses, the local government realized that ensuring an efficient service should be a priority.
The Wuhan Public Transport Group, which operates all bus services around the city, advanced public transport information systems to achieve efficiency. “With a new GPS-based bus location system, our dispatchers at all stations can closely monitor bus operations,” says Liu Zhixing, Director of the Information Center, Wuhan Public Transport Group. “We’ve also installed video surveillance systems on the buses, which allow us to keep an eye on the traffic, the performance of bus drivers or any emergency in the bus, so that we can respond and act quickly.”
More than other cities, Wuhan suffered from a lack of public transport depots– many buses often had to be parked and maintained on the streets. This impeded efficient transfers and prevented the city from adding more buses to meet its growing need.
With support from the World Bank, the city built 10 new bus depots and terminals. Fan Wei, a bus dispatcher in Wuhan who works in a newly built bus depot, says the move has brought convenience to all.
“Our buses used to park in an open area on the side of the Yangtze River, which made it hard to look after them. There were frequent thefts and safety issues,” she says. “After this bus depot was built, we have better protection of our buses and equipment. It became easier for mechanics to maintain the buses. We now have a place to rest, go to the toilet and eat lunch. Passengers also enjoy a better environment when waiting for buses or making transfers.”
Besides, bus drivers now receive training on delivering better service and promoting safety.
“As a result, the public transport network and average daily bus ridership have increased over 40 percent compared with 2004,” says Dai Kejun, Director of Wuhan Urban Construction Utilization of Foreign Investment Project Management Office, which manages the project in Wuhan.