January 2, 2015
When a single mother was crushed to death while trying to get onto an
overcrowded subway train in November, it pointed to a problem that
transit officials in the Chinese capital had already promised to
They did so this week, raising subway fares as much as fourfold in what they said was an effort to reduce overcrowding.
That response, not surprisingly, has not been overwhelmingly popular.
"I still had to spend 15
minutes lining up outside my subway stop this morning before I could get
into the station," said Zheng Shenchen, who lives near the Tiantongyuan
North station at the end of Line 5. "It looks like the government just
needed an excuse to raise the price for subway tickets."
Xiaomei, a single mother from Chengde, Hebei province, died in early
November, on a day when a record 9.3 million passengers flocked to
Beijing's subway system. Government restrictions that day kept half of
Beijing's automobiles off the streets to keep them clear for dignitaries
in the capital for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
33, was crushed after becoming trapped between a moving subway train
and the safety door on the platform, after apparently failing to get
into an overcrowded car.
that day wasn't significantly higher than the system's recent average
of more than 9 million riders. (By comparison, New York City averages
7.7 million subway riders daily.) Beijing's subway system has
experienced explosive growth in recent years — and has become
notoriously overcrowded as a result.
From having five subway lines
that ran about 87 miles in 2007, when the city's anywhere-you-can-ride
subway pricing was introduced, Beijing today has 18 subway lines that
cover more than 327 miles, after four new lines went into operation
But with the expansion has come more riders, making the experience of riding a subway during rush hour nigtmarish.
A video from the official China Central Television documenting the
scene at Beijing's Xierqi station during morning rush hour went viral
last year. A subway worker whose job is to regulate passenger flow on
the platform was pushed into the train several times by riders rushing
to get in.
When local authorities said they planned to raise
fares, solving the congestion problem was touted as one of the major
benefits. A higher price "can help divert more passengers away from the
subway to the buses," the state-owned People's Daily said in July.
the fare hike took effect Sunday, Beijing charged a flat fee of 32
cents for all rides, regardless of distance. The new fares begin at 48
cents and can go as high as $1.45, depending on how far a passenger
Zheng, 26, who works for an Internet company 12 miles
from his apartment in north Beijing, now pays more than double the old
fare for his 50-minute morning commute. Still, he has no plans to take
another mode of transportation.
"Taking the subway is the fastest
way for me to get to my office," he said. "Taking a bus is simply not an
option with the traffic congestion on the roads in Beijing."
the public hearing on the subway fare hike took place in late October,
10 people were chosen to represent commuters. Such a hearing should have
been "a chance for ordinary people to exercise their democratic
rights," wrote Zhang Hongliang, an economics professor from Minzu
University in Beijing, in a blog post at the time. But in China, he
said, the only choice is "which price hike plan is better."
young migrants in Beijing such as Pan and Zheng rent affordable
apartments at the end of the subway lines to keep the cost of living
down, while having the convenience of an easy commute to the city.
Jian, who works at a stock brokerage in Beijing's central business
district, moved with his girlfriend to an apartment building next to the
Liyuan subway station in Beijing's eastern suburbs three years ago
because the rent is only $209 a month.
Although his daily expenses
on the subway almost tripled after the fare hike, Zhang, 27, still
wouldn't consider moving closer to work.
"If I move, the
difference in rent is much more than the additional money I had to spend
on subway tickets after the fare hike," Zhang said. "Taking the bus
can't guarantee I get to work on time because of traffic congestion on
the road, so I just need to face the higher subway fare and deal with