July 30, 2018

China’s Metro Boom Continues to Drive Rapid Transit Growth

Xiamen’s first metro line | Source: Xinhuanet.com

Transit growth in Asia, particularly in China, has continued, and even accelerated in the past few years. This growth is not new, of course, Chinese cities have been adding transit rapidly over the past several decades. As of 2017, this shows no signs of slowing.

ITDP looked at bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail transit (LRT), and Metro growth in 373 urban areas around the world, and found that metro growth in Chinese cities is the largest single contributor to new kilometers of transit in the world. However, LRT development was more robust in Asia than any other continent for the first time in 2017, and BRT is growing strongly in Argentina. The 2017, there was a total of 897 km of rapid transit infrastructure built, with Metro accounting for 707 km (79%). LRT followed with 135 km built in 2017, a 2.4% increase over 2016. BRT accounts for the remaining 55 km, with the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina accounting for 50% of global BRT construction in 2017.

Construction of rapid transit infrastructure has increased tremendously since the beginning of the new millennium. The opening of BRT and metro rail systems has been at a faster pace, thus contributing more to the rapid transit growth for the past two decades. The LRT concept gained a wider recognition in the 1980’s before declining in the 1990’s, and then slowly growing in the last 15 years.

Comparing the rapid transit growth on yearly basis, there was an overall 18% decrease in the kilometers of infrastructure added in 2017 compared to 2016. This, however, still represents the 5th highest year of growth on record in the 37 years included in the dataset.

There are several conclusions that can be drawn from this. One is that China, a country dealing with worsening air pollution and traffic congestion, as well as increasing wealth, has embraced rapid transit as an urban mobility solution, and continues to show that commitment in their infrastructure investments. The Chinese government is putting a major effort into promoting a sustainable transportation system, and attempting to address climate change. This data highlights that how China has transformed its public transportation sector dramatically over the last few decades and continues to be on the top in terms of contributing to the global rapid transit growth.

To understand if transit growth is keeping pace with urban population growth, the Rapid Transit to Resident Ratio (RTR) was used as a metric to compare the length of the rapid transit lines (including LRT, BRT and Metro) with the country’s urban population (cities with population over 500,000). China’s RTR has risen steeply over the last 20 years, mainly due to massive continual investment in metro infrastructure. In 2017, 422 km of metro is from newly built and extended metro lines in just 12 cities in mainland China. Guangzhou, a city in Southern China, had the greatest metro growth, with 84 km added in 2017.

The RTR numbers indicate a sharp increase after the millennium, which points out that urban population is proportionally increasing with  rapid transit investment. But it should be noted that China is the one that has heavily invested on rapid transit infrastructures and with their urban population growth decreasing significantly it appears that the global increase in RTR could be mostly attributed to China.

Although Taiwan has only three rapid transit systems operating in four cities, it saw the highest RTR growth in 2017, due to the opening of the 51 km Metro in the city of Taoyuan.

Since 2009, Asian countries have contributed the highest to the global rapid transit growth, mostly through robust metro development. Four cities in China: Xiamen, Guiyan, Shijiazhuang, Yinchuan, and three cities in India: Hyderabad, Kochi and Lucknow opened their 1st metro lines in 2017, bringing the total number of cities with metro to 178.

In 2017, Asia had more robust LRT development than on any other continent. Notably, LRT lines opened for the first time in Shenzhen, China; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; and in Izmit and Izmir, Turkey. Outside of Asia, LRT lines opened in Granada, Spain; Luxembourg city, and Aarhus, Denmark, bringing the total to 397 cities with LRT.

We can expect this trend to continue. At the end of 2017, China’s central government announced a policy to relax the minimum population requirements for local governments to pursue metro projects from 3 million residents to 1.5 million. As a result, smaller cities can build metro systems, with China expected to have around 6400 km of rapid transit infrastructure by 2020.


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