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Increasing Beijing Subway Fares: Yes or No?

TWOC asked several passengers their views on the impending price increases

02·15·2014

Increasing Beijing Subway Fares: Yes or No?

TWOC asked several passengers their views on the impending price increases

02·15·2014

This weekend officially marks the end of this year’s Spring Festival holiday. It also marks Chunyun‘s (春运 – Spring Festival Travel), a reverse migration. With their renewed spirit and ambition for the Horse Year, migrant workers and students from all across the country left their hometown to return to the capital.

Reverse Migration in Beijing Railway Station, many people were carrying luggage  returning from their hometown

Reverse Migration in Beijing Railway Station where many people were carrying luggage returning from their hometown

The Spring Festival itself might be Beijing Subway’s most dormant days, leaving the city migrant-less, resulting in copious amount of vacant seats for all locals, tourists, and the people who stayed in the city. Rush hours were nonexistent (by Beijing standards), and the daily long queue was nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately, this Utopian commuter’s dream came to termination earlier this week, as the emerging stream of reverse migrants started to kick in.

Packed subway car ofl\Line 4, the crowd is back to 'normal'.

Packed subway car on Line 4, the crowd is back to “normal”

Classic views of passengers queuing in long lines returned, dragging us back to the inevitable reality of the buzzing metropolis that is Beijing. Many of the passengers, especially the ones encountered on the capital’s railways’ connecting lines such Beijing Railway Station, or Xizhimen Station, were exposed to extra squeezing as they trailed their luggage into subway cars. Families with kids, new-coming relatives, overloaded bags, and unattended luggage in corners could be found during the reverse migration period of Spring Festival, adding to an even more chaotic state than normal.

Xizhimen Station - Line 13,

Xizhimen Station – Line 13

With more than 200 stations built since its establishment in 1969, and with records of more than ten million passengers in one day, Beijing has taken over Moscow’s as the world’s second busiest subway in 2013, second only to the Seoul Metropolitan Subway. As a matter of fact, Beijing is getting even busier. The current existing 18 subway lines  still have not met Beijingers’ mass need for commuting. The government is planning ever more rapid expansion, with a target of extending existing lines and opening 19 lines in total with  over 700 km track length in 2015, and more than 1000 km by 2020.

This ambitious plan comes with its consequence. Recent rumors of a fare adjustment plan,  ranging from tickets costing 5 to 10 RMB per ride have been circulating and are widely debated among Chinese netizens. The government has not yet made any official statement, but according to Beijing Mayor Li Xiang,  during an interview, said the final plan may be introduced later this year. So, whether we like it or not, it looks like Beijingers will have to say goodbye to the 2 RMB fare.

The World Of Chinese spoke to many passengers regarding the fare adjustment plan,and receiving varied opinions as to how much a ticket should cost: “I’ve heard about the  fare adjustment plan. But it should not be raised up to 5 RMB, I think that’s too expensive. Taking the taxi only takes a 10 RMB on minimum fare, it’s almost the same. If the price would be raised, 3 RMB per ride is still tolerable,” said a man surnamed Wang, a passenger who takes the subway to go to work from Jianguomen Station, line 4, to Wangfujing, line 1, every day.

Wang, Beijing Subway's daily passenger.

Wang, a daily Beijing subway passenger

A Sichuan merchant surnamed Yan, who just came back  from his holiday, also supported Wang’s opinion:

“If the fare reaches 5 RMB it would be a big difference; a lot of people like me who live in the suburbs rely on the subway to go to work. If the fare was raised too high, I might have to take the bus. It takes much more time,” said Yan as he was preparing to leave the subway in Changping station.

In contrast, some passengers considered 5 RMB a tolerable price. “Beijing is getting more developed, and the subway itself is improving and constructing more lines, so I think it’s still normal to raise the price to 5 RMB. It’s still cheaper than buying gas,” said a middle-aged woman surnamed Yang, a local traveling with her husband.

“Beijing should follow Shanghai to pay the fare by distance and transfer. That way it’s more justified for everyone. Some lines are really long, so I think 5 RMB is still tolerable,” added Sun, Yang’s spouse.

Since its public opening 43 years ago, Beijing Subway has undergone several fare adjustments. It’s lowest fare was 0.10 RMB per ride on trial run in 1971 with only Line 1 solely open for public use. In 1987 the government extended Line 1 and added Line 2,  with a rate of 0.20 RMB for single ride and 0.30 RMB with transfers. In 1991 the fare hiked again to the amount of 0.50 per ride, until the most drastic hike occurred in 1996 when the fare was adjusted to 2 RMB. The fare rose one more time, in 2000, and has remained static into the early 2000s as rapid subway extensions and line constructions were being conducted for the Olympics. In 2003 Beijing adopted a distance and transfer price system, ranging from 3 -5 RMB per ride, which marked the peak of its most expensive rate, until the government’s subsidies reduced the rate to a single fare of 2 RMB with unlimited transfers from 2007 onwards.

Should Beijing, again, adjust the fare rate and apply the transfer system? If we take a look among the five busiest subways in the world, Beijing’s subway fare of 2 RMB is by far the cheapest among them. The most expensive is the world’s busiest with Seoul Metropolitan’s minimum fare costing 6 RMB (1050 Won) per ride. In third place is Shanghai’s, where the base fare costs 3 RMB per ride, while a single trip in Moscow’s costs 5 RMB (30 Rubles), and finally Tokyo Metro’s minimum fare costs 9,5 RMB (160 yen) per ride. Nevertheless, cost alone could not be the only comparative measurement, as GDP per Capita, living standards, and other environmental factors vary immensely from city to city.