April 01, 2006

BRT in Hangzhou and Beijing


The first 10km segment of Hangzhou’s 28km Line 1 BRT commenced commercial operation on 26 April, served by articulated BRT buses in a striking red color.

Passengers pay before entering the station, and enjoy level boarding and alighting. In keeping with Hangzhou’s rich cultural history, stations are attractively designed, although the absence of passing lanes will limit future expansion. Stations are located on a median adjacent to impressive bicycle lanes. The eastern portion of the corridor, ending at a new industrial park and university complex, currently has little traffic or public transport demand but is expected to rapidly develop.

Several routes have been diverted off the corridor, presumably resulting in more transfers and offsetting some of the time saving benefits of the system’s extra speed. With an initial peak headway of 3 to 4 minutes between buses – 6 to 8 minutes off peak – there is a perception that the lane is underutilized, especially given the heavy congestion in the remaining mixed traffic lanes. Passenger demand is low, and while demand and operational planning appear not to have been priorities in the initial design, planners will focus on addressing these issues now that the infrastructure is in place.

As in Beijing, the government paid for the BRT buses and provides an operational subsidy to the system’s operator: the General Bus Company.


The Beijing BRT was only 5.5km long and carried less than 1,500 daily passengers during its first ‘testing’ year in 2005.  The expensive fleet of BRT buses largely languished in the depot, as only a handful of buses were needed and with only left-side doors, they could not be used outside the BRT corridor.  After expanding the first corridor to 16km and canceling several competing bus lines in January 2006, the situation has greatly improved.  Ridership has increased to around 75,000 passenger boardings per weekday in March 2006, and on some days has reportedly exceeded 100,000 passengers.

Peak passenger flows in late March 2006 were around 4,500 passengers per hour northward in the morning peak, and around 5,000 passengers per hour southward in the evening peak. This is substantially lower than the forecasts of system planners of a peak ridership of 6,000 to 8,000 passengers per hour per direction. However, although peak passenger ridership is lower than predicted, the BRT fleet of 40 articulated buses has been insufficient to meet demand, and 50 regular buses have been allowed to use the BRT stations to try to alleviate severe peak period overcrowding of the buses and some of the stations. Around one third of peak period passenger demand is carried using non-BRT buses operating within the BRT infrastructure (see photo).

The passenger waiting time at congested stations in the evening peak typically exceeds 15 minutes and can be up to half an hour. Although these waiting times will be reduced with the deployment of additional BRT buses – 40 more have been ordered – it is likely that station design shortcomings will then begin to erode operational speeds.

The operational speed in the peak period and direction is currently around 22km/hr, slightly faster than regular buses in the same corridor. Apart from the northern section, which does not have segregated bus lanes, and some queuing delays at a few intersections, the corridor is not currently congested, but congestion can be expected to increase in future, leading to more significant travel time savings for BRT passengers compared to regular buses.

The second Beijing BRT line – starting in the Chaoyangmen CBD area and extending westward along Chaoyang Rd to Dingfuzhuang – has already been identified and as with the first BRT line is excellently placed to capture significant passenger demand. A third BRT line to the north of the city centre will serve the Olympic Park area.


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