Beijing subway: is it really possible to manage public transportation system?
According to the official surveys, Beijing has the world's second longest subway track line and simultaneously the planet's highest daily ridership, allowing almost 9 million people to enjoy the blessings of the technological progress! Equally important, not too many of the world's greatest metropolitan areas stand any chance in comparison with Chinese cities when it comes to the scale and scope of infrastructural projects. Furthermore, it increasingly seems that there are standards of modernity applicable to the rest of the world and China alone, what in most even developed countries took sometimes a century in Beijing was largely accomplished within 20 year period, when the two up to date existing lines were significantly extended and new connections added.
As the city sprawls through a seemingly never ending, ever expanding area, while residing in Beijing you need to get used to spending as much as 2 hours in subway one way. I can't even imagine how the life in Beijing looked like before the advent of a subway, as even despite the increasingly strict traffic limitation the city is marred by the phantom of traffic jams and air pollution. What is more, the city administration considers toughening existing rules, introducing policies of restricting the use of private cars resembling policies adopted in many of the world's biggest cities (for instance London). As a matter of fact, it seems that the further development of the urban transportation is to a large extent dependent upon the improvement of suburban and urban railway and bus systems.
After protracted analysis of even more ambitious plans for the future, one can certainly say "China is the new USA" when it comes to the scope of its infrastructural projects and doubtlessly the world's best work market if you are an engineer. In the next decade or so, every provincial level city in China is about to get a way more extensive subway system than most of the European capitals or the vast majority of the other developed countries major cities. Not to mention that already extensive subway system in Beijing will get a few hundred kilometers more of tracks. In the face of that, it's hardly sensible to say that China is challenging the old way in which the issue of transportation was perceived, but rather it's ahead of the times, therefore, putting an altogether new lens through which the question of the public transportation is perceived.
These problems are easily noticeable and painfully felt in everyday life. Sometimes travel by subway resembles a journey through the very heart of all the seven hells of Dante's. I have never in my life experienced anything comparable to travelling by metro in Beijing around 6 p.m., as sometimes there is hardly any more space on the train! To add to the daily struggles, unfortunately, Beijing subway is also often characterized by a challenge to get off, typical for many Asian countries as people waiting at the platform are often too impatient to let the other passengers leave the train, which often literally leaves you no other choice, but to fight your way out!
Despite at times grim scenes accompanying travelling by the means of public transportation in Beijing, there are many positive sides of the city's subway system. One of the brighter aspects of them are children. "Mom, mom, foreigner", sometimes whispered, at other times almost shouted in astonishment can brighten up even the gloomiest day. Especially, if the occasion is favorable for a conversation. Once, I've had a chance to overhear a conversation in Chinese between a boy, most likely around 8 years old and his mother: "Mom there is a foreigner there. I would like to talk to him". Noticing the smile on my face, his mother encouraged him to actually speak to me. However, exhibiting shyness common to some children of his age, he seemed to be a bit reluctant. Finally, I've decided to make the first step and I definitely don't regret that. We've only had some basic conversation, but you can't imagine how happy it made the boy.
Another peculiarity of Beijing's subway system is its simplicity. I clearly remember how on my first subway ride in Beijing I had absolutely no problems with finding the way to get to the Tiananmen Square, even though I was totally unfamiliar with Chinese at that time and I had to transfer some three times. Moreover, many of the stations, exhibit very interesting motifs directly representing the rich cultural heritage of China and themes ranging from the Peking opera to politics.
To sum up, impressive as the development of the subway system in Beijing has been, the process brings into the forefront some essentially existential questions, as it seems that no matter how enhanced or improved, the public transportation system will always be deemed insufficient In a city of Beijing's size, but does there exist any truly efficient way to improve the current state of the city's urban communication? Double decked subways? Twice as long carriages, or 40 more subway lines? Whichever the solution (if any), undoubtedly the future of Beijing's public transportation will influence the way people view and deal with the issue worldwide.