Metro, subway, underground, et al.

A key characteristic of a modern, well managed city is the presence of a subway system. Currently in China, 26 cities have a subway system. Some are fairly small as in Fuzhou with 1 line and 9 stations over 10 km. For 6 cities, the subway system has more than 100 stations stretching over 100 km.

For these 26 cities, a total of 2,116 stations are operational over a distance of 3,283 km. These are amazing numbers.

shanghai-metro-mapShanghai Metro map. Source: Shanghai Metro

The Shanghai and Beijing metro systems have more than 300 stations covering over 500 km each, with stations having up to 21 different exits.

On a world basis, both cities are a match to Paris (303 stations and 214 km), London (270, 400 km), New York (504, 420 km) and Tokyo (293, 312 km).

Only 3 cities compete in annual ridership above 3 billion: Shanghai at 3.1, Beijing at 3.3 and Tokyo at 3.5. These are gargantuan numbers that can only be understood by riding the subway in these cities. To keep up with the number of customers, in Tokyo, individuals were hired to “gently” push passengers into the subway cars. Shanghai has started doing the same in the last year as ridership has continued to increase.

peak-time-in-shanghai-metroPeak time in Shanghai Metro. Source: Unknown

What is the future of subway systems looking like in Chinese cities? Currently, there are 12 cities that are building a new subway system. In addition, the 26 cities that currently have a system, are adding more stations and lines. For example, Shanghai is planning to add a further 114 stations covering a distance of 226 km by 2020 (i.e. within 4 years). The plans for Beijing are even more grandiose as they plan to add 192 stations covering 368 km also by 2020.

Subways in China have become a tool for engineering a society that uses public transport. Governments (central, provincial and local) realised early on that with a population of 1.36 billion, it is impossible to have the level of car ownership that exists in the West. A high quality public transit system needed to be built to discourage car ownership.

What has compounded the challenges for the municipal governments has been the migration of hundreds of millions of people from rural areas to the cities. In China, the level of people living in cities (i.e. urbanization) has only recently reached 50%, which is low compared to an average of 78% in the West. So it is reasonable to anticipate further growth in Chinese cities, therefore more subways.


One thought on “Metro, subway, underground, et al.

  1. Regarding the issue of car ownership, it may be that the rest of the world will need to follow China’s lead. It would benefit us all if the number of privately owned cars was reduced universally. The ratio of cars to people in most western countries simply is unsustainable on a global scale and, in fact, is counter to any attempts to control our negative impact on world climate.


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