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FEATURE STORY

Green Transport Helps Build Low-carbon Cities in China

January 12, 2012

World Bank-funded projects promote public transport, walking and biking in Chinese cities, so that they could move toward a low-carbon future.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rapid motorization in China has come at a cost to the environment.
  • The World Bank assists Chinese cities in reforming public transport and overcoming problems that made people less willing to walk or bike.
  • A project in Wuhan, China, has helped make public transport services more efficient, build pedestrian tunnels and bridges, and rebuild roads.

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.

Open Quotes

Urban transport has developed so fast in recent years. 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. Close Quotes

Xi Yuan
a young white collar worker in Wuhan, China

Improving Cycling and Walking Paths

City authorities were also keen to overcome problems caused by a lack of pedestrian crossings and too narrow roads that made people less willing to walk or bike.

"In Wuhan, we’ve also built a number of pedestrian tunnels and bridges to separate pedestrians from vehicles,” says Dai. "Plus, we’ve rebuilt the roads in the city center and improved the road network to make travel easier.”

Jie Zhang, who lives near the Carrefour Supermarket in Wuhan, welcomes that the project built an underpass in front of the supermarket, which she goes to almost every day. “I remember a couple of years ago, without this underpass, crossing the street here was difficult, especially when you just finished shopping and were holding all your purchases. Now it is much easier.” 

Strengthening Local Capacity

What’s more, through preparing and implementing this project, the local government built up knowledge on how to develop sustainable urban transport from planning, designing, financials, project management, public participation in city planning, and public transport operations, to environmental protection, says Ke Fang, a senior urban transport specialist at the World Bank who leads the Bank’s support to the project.

"Some of the models we piloted with this project are now being replicated by local authorities across the city,” he says. 

The World Bank is also supporting other Chinese cities such as Jinzhou, Xi’an, and Taiyuan in their quest for eco-friendly transport systems and low-carbon growth.

"Worldwide, it’s evident  the more people walk, bike, and use public transport in cities, the less pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and congestion residents would suffer and the healthier and happier they are,” Fang says.