Unclogging Chinese Traffic With A Bus System That Works

Traffic in Guangzhou (as in all of China) used to be out of control. A new bus system with dedicated lanes and smarter route planning is starting to ease congestion.



China’s transportation sector is troubled, to say the least. A problematic, pricey high-speed rail system and traffic jams that last for days are just a few of the issues that have arisen as China’s population continues to grow. But amidst these problems is a transportation model to be hopeful about. Guangzhou, China–the third largest city in the country–opened a 14-mile bus rapid transit corridor last year in an attempt to lower congestion on one of the city’s main roads. And so far, it’s really working–so well, in fact, that the corridor could be used as an example for other Chinese cities, and perhaps even cities around the world.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) released this week a preliminary report examining the successes of Guangzhou’s bus corridor along Zhongshan Avenue, which now has 805,000 daily boardings–giving it the title of most-used bus corridor in Asia–and an increase in the bus speed of 29% compared to the previous bus system in the area (before and after pictures are above). The system is so efficient that Guangzhou’s bus system has slashed operating costs by over $14 million annually. So how did Guangzhou do it?

Most of the corridor’s success is the result of crafty route planning. Before the system was implemented, over 40 bus routes served Zhongshan Ave. There were no segregated lanes for buses, causing traffic to increase because of frequent bus stopping points. An on-board payment system also significantly slowed down boarding times. The report explains how the new system has changed:

All stations have overtaking lanes allowing multiple sub-stops and express routes, and are designed and dimensioned according to the projected passenger demand and bus flows. Access to the center median stations is via a combination of pedestrian bridges, at-grade crossings, and pedestrian tunnels where combined with metros. Intersections along the corridor have restricted left turns. The system uses a “direct service” or “flexible” operational plan which allows buses to enter and leave the segregated lanes, instead of requiring transfers to/from feeder routes.

The new corridor has another feature that bus systems in the U.S. could take a hint from: Passengers pay at station turnstiles instead of on the bus. Guangzhou’s corridor also has real-time digital updates on when buses will arrive and at which gates. The system essentially does what any efficient transit system should do–even though many don’t.


Bogota’s Transmilenio rightly gets credit as the first city bus system to implement these innovations successfully, but now that a very different city on another continent has also made it work, rapid bus transit should become more common.

Not every bus system has the cash on hand for a major overhaul, however, though the fuel savings from streamlined bus routes do accumulate over time. And soon enough, the U.S. may get to see what a Guangzhou-like bus corridor looks like in action. Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council is reportedly planning the first “true” bus rapid transit network in the country–a 95-mile system that will double the average speed compared to regular city buses.

[Images: ITDP]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.