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A Probe into the Bus Market in China’s Medium- and Large-Sized Cities

2009-05-18    Source:www.english.chinabuses.com

Along with China’s urban economic development and people’s rising living standards, high-class urban buses, usually regarded as an important gauge for people’s evaluation of city image, are now in great demand across the nation. In recent years, China’s top-tier cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, etc., all introduced plush low-floor buses to their urban roads as a means to give their urban area a face-lift and solve public transport problems. It is now very obvious that other cities across China are following suit.     



Passengers flock to squeeze their way onto buses


However, it has to be pointed out that the demand for buses in different Chinese cities varies according to their road conditions and local government’s financial strength. In addition, the bus markets in Chinese large- and medium-sized cities other than Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou need further studying. After a careful research of bus operation in Chengdu and Xi’an and a comparison between Xi’an, Hangzhou and Xiamen, the reporter filed this report.   



Huanghai Bus at Changzhou BRT


1. The status of current bus market in China’s large- and medium-sized cities


After China’s adoption of opening-up and reform policy, the bus & coach building industry has been developing by leaps and bounds. As one of the most important transport tools for urban residents, environmentally friendly and energy efficient buses are expected to be large demand as China continues to upgrade its urban road conditions and encourage the development of public transport.     



Xiamen Kinglong XMQ6127G tailored for Xiamen BRT


In April and October in 2008, the reporter conducted a careful research on the bus operation in Xi’an, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen. Twenty-two buses operating in twelve different routes have been closely monitored.



Beijing BRT


It is found out that 9.2 passengers are squeezed into one square meter area during the peak traffic hour in Chengdu. Back in 1973, a similar study made in Xi’an showed that twelve passengers stood within one square meter in a bus and a nine-meter bus carried 100 passengers at one time. Given this, it can be concluded that the travel conditions for passengers are not quite pleasant. According to Highway Capacity Manual 2000 (HCM2000) issued by U.S Transportation Research Board, it is generally comfortable for four passengers standing within one square meter on a bus. The maximum carrying capacity of a bus should be calculated on the basis of 5-persons-standing/m2.



Beijing BRT Bus Stop


Given above, it can be concluded that China still needs buses with larger carrying capacity to ease the density on urban public vehicles in a fairly long period of time in the future. 



Passengers Board a Bus at a BRT Bus Stop


2. The applicability of urban buses with larger carrying capacity

China’s urban buses have been constantly adding new amenities for passengers for several years, including rear-mounted engine design, floor height reduction, seats increments, and installment of TV sets, etc. However, further improvements and more travel amenities are still wanting.



The Roomy Inside of BRT Bus

During the research, it is also found that it takes 9.18% longer for passengers to board the bus with three steps than that with two steps. However, the interior space of the bus with three steps can be better utilized by accommodating 2.67 more passengers per square meter than the bus with two steps. As a result, a 10-meter three-step bus (capable of carrying 92 passengers) can accommodate more passengers than a 12-meter two-step bus (capable of carrying 86 passengers), which shows the reduction of steps undermines efforts made to increase bus’s carrying capacity.



A Special Lane for BRT Bus


Given above, a three-step bus is more applicable than a two-step one in terms of carrying capacity. To better utilize interior space, the two-step bus and one-step one have to change the traditional layout of mounting their engines in a vertical manner at the rear part. In the meantime, it is advised that their wheelbase should be increased and their rear overhang and number of seats reduced. 


A bus with larger carrying capacity can help increase income for public transport companies. Moreover, it can reduce the energy consumption and emission per each passenger.


3. The length of a bus with larger carrying capacity should be taken into full consideration.


Currently, buses and cars are the major vehicles running on urban roads. Buses are usually regarded as the main factor affecting the traffic flow. As buses become longer, more traffic jams are to be expected. Moreover, buses with a longer body-frame will greatly slow down the traffic flow at curves and traffic lights. Also, it has to be noted that bus stops in many Chinese cities are usually built along the urban roads, so it is not uncommon to see buses queuing in line for a long time to drop and pick up passengers at each bus stops. Due to the fact that it will take years to better urban road conditions, it is not quite feasible to make buses hold more passengers by simply building longer buses. Bus builders are well advised to build buses with a suitable length according to different cities road conditions. 


4. The difference between China's bus market with American and European markets


In Europe or United States, bus passengers are chiefly comprised of commuters and senior high school students. Students under ninth grade usually take school buses. In China, however, school buses are not common and most office workers go to work by taking buses.


In America, 80% of its bus fleet are 12-meter long and have about 35 seats in each bus. The number of passengers who have to stand would never surpass one half of the bus's seat number. A 14-meter bus is stipulated to carry 54-64 passengers at the most. That means 2/3 of passengers have their own seats. Apart from enjoying larger personal space, passengers have more amenities on buses, like space for wheelchairs and kid carts. In China, a 12-meter bus with about 35 seats usually carries 85-90 passengers, which means 2/3 of passengers have to stand.


It has also to be noted that a two-axle bus usually weighs 17-18 tons. Thanks to fewer passengers on American and European buses, their bus builders can manufacture buses & coaches with more weight. Currently, a 12-meter diesel powered bus weighs 11.2-11.5 tons and a hybrid bus 12-13 tons. The weight of a fuel cell battery powered bus can even reach over 14 tons. To increase the number of passengers, bus builders have to put the weight of their buses under a certain limit. If not, an overweight bus will fail to pass the national standard.


5. Conclusion

A full consideration of above-mentioned factors shows that bus builders should adopt different tactics while developing new bus & coach models for China and the western developed countries. In many years to come, 10- or 11-meter-long buses with larger carrying capacity are expected to enjoy stronger demand than buses of other lengths.




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