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Construction of Rapid Urban Rail Transit Systems as an Important Aspect of Boosting the Domestic Demand


Xiong Xianliang

Research Report No 173, 2000

I. Necessity in Speeding up Construction of Rapid Rail Transit Systems in Large Cities

In 1998, there were 13 big cities in China, each with a non-agricultural urban population of over 2 million, and 24 cities, each with that of 1-2 million. In 1997, there were 12 and 22 cities in these two categories respectively. The total non-agricultural urban population in these cities was 74.77 million in 1997, accounting for 20 percent of the total urban population in China. And the total population of these cities was 99.11 million, accounting for 27 percent of the total urban population in China. The employed urban people in these cities accounted for 29 percent of the total employed urban population and the investment in fixed assets in these cities made up 27 percent of that in the whole country.

In 1997, the GDP of the urban districts of these large cities was RMB 1,684.2 billion yuan, accounting for 23 percent of that of China. The GDP per capita in these cities was RMB 16,993 yuan, 2.8 times that of the whole country. The figure was even higher in the urban districts of these cities. Viewed from their proportions of GDP as mentioned above, we can see that whether these cities can achieve a high-speed growth will be of vital importance to the sustained economic growth of China in the future.

The experience of a number of developed as well as developing countries has proved that there is a general law on the “leading development of large cities and their peripheries”. That is to say that the employment and output in big cities grow at a speed higher than that of the entire country and all the cities, due to the existence of the “economies effect of agglomeration” in the large cities at the stage of speed-up urbanization. Compared with the related index of 1990, we can see that this law was not obvious in China from 1990 to 1997, which was closely connected with the structural defects in transportation, function, industry, consumption and geographical economic activities that were commonly seen in almost all the big cities in China.

For a long time, about half of the urban dwellers have taken bicycles as their main means of transport, next by buses and cars, whilst rapid rail transit systems (including subway systems, urban light rail transit systems, urban railways and suburban railways) account for only a very small proportion in several cities. The efficiency of the overall passenger transportation in big cities is very low. The decreased speed of transportation has led to the increase in energy consumption and deterioration in air pollution. And the expansion of the big cities towards their peripheries has been slowed down because of the increased cost in internal transport. The economic development of these cities is limited by the bottleneck of the low efficiency of the internal transportation system.

Compared with other cities in the world, London built its first subway in 1863, Paris in 1900, Berlin in 1902, New York in 1904 and Tokyo in 1927. There are now over 100 cities with subways in the world, of which more than 80 were built after World War II. In Mexico city, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei and Hong Kong, as well as Warsaw and Budapest in Eastern Europe, the fairly well developed rapid rail transit systems play an important role in the internal passenger transport in these cities. The advantages of rapid rail transit track transportation include high capacity, punctuality, fast speed and safety, as well as per capita low occupancy of road, per capita low energy consumption and low pollution. Moreover, it can take one of the three forms of transportation, i.e., on-the-ground, overhead and underground to match the different situations of ground transportation and land availability. This makes it particularly suitable for big cities in China, where the population intensity is high, the demand for peak-hour transportation is great and the pollution problem is severe. Therefore, it has become an objective requirement of the big cities to build rapid rail transportation systems for the purpose of improving transportation structure, building up grade-separation transportation systems and removing traffic jam.

Meanwhile, rapid rail transportation will also give impetus to the elimination of structural defects in other aspects of the big cities. For instance, rapid rail transit systems connect the downtown areas with the periphery and promote the suburbanization of cities. It will help residents who live and work in the downtown areas of the cities to move to the periphery, where “satellite cities” are set up to reduce the population density and the intensified demand for transportation in the downtown areas, so as to improve the overall layout of big cities. Opening of the subways in the downtown areas will help raise the passenger capacity and reduce the cost resulting from traffic jams and also improve and perfect the function of the downtown areas which serve as service centers. Rapid rail transportation between the residential districts of periphery and industrial locations will be more helpful for the extension and radiation of the cities towards the periphery, thus promoting the balanced development of the periphery with the downtown areas. In the periphery of the cities, there will be more per capita land floorage, more space for economic activities and low cost for living and parking, which are conducive to the enlargement of consumption on housing and increasing in car purchasing, upgrading the consumption structure of the cities towards housing and transportation and promoting the development of the related industries and services. As a result, the appearance of big cities in China will be improved significantly and the gap between these cities and the big cities in the developed countries be narrowed.


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