Public transport provider uses well of tech to improve travel experience
Many people in Beijing prefer public transport when travelling, especially during peak periods. Among a variety of options, public buses have become one of the most popular means for commuters since it is economical, convenient and eco-friendly.
As a giant public bus service provider, the Beijing Public Transport Corporation constantly improves the travelling experiences of passengers by offering a series of custom-made services, in addition to adopting advanced technology.
Founded in 1921, the company closely follows the speed of the country's development. Let’s find out more about the efforts that the company has made to achieve today's success.
People are queuing at a bus station in Beijing. [Photo: from IC]
It's a weekday morning in Beijing, several passengers are queuing at a bus station. Some of them say going by bus has become their preferred method of public transport when they commute.
"I often take the bus to work. The bus station is very close to my home, and after I get off the bus, it only takes me about five minutes to walk to my workplace. So it is quite convenient."
"Seniors over 60 in Beijing get a free bus pass. I am 60 years old now, so it is the first year I've been able to enjoy this privilege. I take the bus to go anywhere I want to go in the city."
"It takes me about half an hour to get to school, and I pay student rates, so it is pretty cheap. My school isn't very far away from my home; otherwise, I would probably have to take the subway instead."
Bus routes chart in Beijing [Photo: courtesy of the Beijing Public Transport Corporation]
Public bus services in Beijing are some of the most extensive, widely used and affordable form of public transport in the centre and outskirts of Beijing. There are nearly 1300 buses routes in the city, with a fleet of over 30,000 vehicles. In 2018, more than 3 billion individual journeys are made across the transport network, which plays a crucial role in public transport in the city.
This convenient transport sector is organized by the Beijing Public Transport Corporation, a large scale state-owned company. It provides around 160,000 jobs in the city.
Besides daily transport services, commuters in Beijing nowadays are able to enjoy a series of custom-made services after the Beijing Public Transport Corporation conducted thorough researches into their needs.
Special lines to cemeteries in Beijing [Photo: from IC]
Tomb Sweeping Day, also known as Chinese Memorial Day, fell on April 5th on the Gregorian calendar last week. It is a time for Chinese people to commemorate their beloved late relatives. Figures released by China's Ministry of Civil Affairs show that approximately 5 million people in Beijing have visited cemeteries to pay their respects this year.
The traffic congestion often starts a week before the official day and finishes a week afterwards. This year, 12 special bus lines were opened started from the city center to six cemeteries in the suburbs for two weeks.
Xu Zhengxiang is general manager of the Strategy and Reform Development Department with the Beijing Public Transport Corporation. [Photo: from China Plus]
Xu Zhengxiang is general manager of the Strategy and Reform Development Department with the Beijing Public Transport Corporation. He says this thriving customized service is a milestone in the development of Beijing public bus services, showing an enthusiastic reception from passengers.
Operating since 2013, custom-made services have seen a considerable extension in recent years. Wu Tianzhen is a director from the Transport Network with the company. He is responsible to optimize bus routes and design custom-made services.
"The earliest form of custom-made services is bus rental services for private sectors, like companies and schools. And then we gradually provide bus lines to resorts that are arranged during peak times in holidays, special lines to cemeteries during Tomb-sweeping Day, and loop lines to certain hospitals in busy areas. This kind of bus route has been arranged because we noticed more demand from people and they are effective in reducing traffic congestion in these areas."
Ji Xinrong is vice manager from the Transport Network Department with the company. [Photo: from China Plus]
Ji Xinrong is vice manager from the Transport Network Department with the company. He says there are other stimuli that can help it to flourish.
"When we design a custom-made service, we also need to consider the current city planning policy and the changing commuting habits of younger generations. They're all important factors shaping our management system and services. Nowadays, we are facing a new phenomenon, which is that the number of our passengers is slightly decreasing because they have more choices, like the subway, hailing a cab and bike-sharing. This is a normal and inevitable trend, but it means we have to quickly respond and create innovative services."
The latest customized service has operated in three main railway stations in Beijing since December, 2018. [Photo: courtesy of the Beijing Public Transport Corporation]
Since last year, the latest customized service has operated in three main railway stations in Beijing. It takes passengers from the railway station to anywhere within the fifth ring road. It's the first time that individual services for passengers have been arranged. After installing an application on your smartphone and placing an order online, the cloud computer will immediately plan a specific line to take at least three passengers heading in the same direction. This service is similar to ride-sharing services, but more economical and safer.
Wu Tianzhen is a director from the Transport Network with the company. [Photo: from China Plus]
Wu Tianzhen explains:"We hope to provide a door-to-door bus service that can take passengers to their designated places, like taxis do. Since each bus is shared by at least three passengers, it's much cheaper than a taxi and more eco-friendly. We created an intelligent system that can collect orders online and quickly react to put passengers into one car according to their destination and departure time. Once they've paid their fares online, passengers will receive a message with every detail they need, like the car license number, set-off time and a digital ticket with QR code, which they scan on the reader when they get on the bus. This service is completely different from other custom-made services. The drivers don't know the bus route until the system finishes its algorithms and can give them instructions, so every journey is totally new to the them. Hence, we carefully select drivers who have long driving experience and excellent skills."
Another prevalent customized service is a line to the children's hospital in Ritan North Road in the Chaoyang District. It's a loop line connecting two nearby subway stations and the hospital. It provides a convenient ride since there are no existing bus lines in the neighborhood. The roads don't allow normal-sized buses to drive through since they're too narrow.
The customized line to children's hospital in Ritan Road has become one of the popular lines since parents no longer need to carry their ill children to go to the hospital on foot. [Photo: courtesy of the Beijing Public Transport Corporation]
A fleet of small, yellow buses, about twenty feet in length, are often seen travelling back and forth between each stop throughout the year. Appreciative passengers have affectionately nicknamed them "Bumblebee".
Wu Tianzhen recalls what problems they have addressed to provide this service:"The biggest issue we have is that our bus drivers don't have a designated place to have a break when they finish one trip and wait for the next one to begin. Normally, there are two bus terminuses, at the start and the end of each bus line. But there's no facility for this loop line since it doesn't have enough buses and personnel. Moreover, when we planned the line, we had to take more restrictions into consideration because it's a one-way street."
To provide efficient and safe services, the company also takes advantages of communication technology to build an Intelligent Bus Control System. It is used to track buses, collect data and effectively respond to emergencies on the road. Xu Zhengxiang explains.
"It is part of our plan to develop smart public transport. It helps us monitor public bus services constantly in many ways, such as observing the time schedule between arriving and departing buses at stations. It also illustrates real-time road conditions and traffic alerts, such as construction, vehicle collisions/breakdowns and faulty traffic signals. Therefore, we can plan accordingly in a bid to provide efficient and prompt services."
In addition to providing convenience, the Beijing Public Transport Corporation has been putting much effort into the adoption of new energy vehicles. On March 25 this year, the company added about 2800 new energy vehicles into its fleet. Currently, nearly 94 percent of its buses are green energy vehicles, which are helpful to produce a less harmful impact on the environment.
First generation of electric buses used in 2008 [Photo: courtesy of the Beijing Public Transport Corporation]
The year 2008 marked a new era in the development of green vehicle in the public transport system. During the Beijing Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, forty electric buses were used in the three loop routes within the Olympic Village, which was a complex of apartments provided for athletes, coaches, journalists and other personnel. Approximately 320 electric shuttle buses were used to provide short rides between each Olympic venue. More than 100 hybrid electric buses were added to the bus fleet which served the public.
According to China's Ministry of Science and Technology, it was the largest number of the new electric buses to operate in the city, achieving zero emissions around the Olympic venues and low emissions along the bus routes directly connecting them.
Fuel cell electric buses in 2008 [Photo: from IC]
Xu Zhengxiang says that as a giant transport provider, the Beijing Public Transport Corporation was well prepared to handle the largest number of service users in history and this was a significant contribution to hosting the world-famous event.
"To make sure athletes put on their best performances in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, only public transport vehicles were allowed to enter the stadium area. In support of the government, we cooperated with vehicle suppliers and told them our expectations and feedback. That's how suppliers were able to provide satisfactory products. During the Olympics, we used roughly 500 advanced electric vehicles to achieve zero emissions. Since 2009, electric buses have been gradually utilized in the daily public transport services. It plays a significant role in stimulating the development of green vehicles in Beijing."
[Photo: from VCG]
In addition, recent years have seen gradual development of self-driving technology in the public transport sector. Xu Zhengxiang says it is currently cooperating with vehicle manufacturers and it is hoped that this technology will be mature and can be used for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
"There are many fields that are crucial in this regard. For example, we need to cooperate with governmental sectors to make adjustments to current road conditions, as well as making it smarter. In addition to cooperating with vehicle manufacturers, we are also collaborating with other tech companies for components, such as sensors and digital maps. When we begin to use autonomous cars, we will arrange professional drivers for supervision as a measure to give our passengers enough time to accept this new norm and totally trust this technology. "
As it is about to celebrate its centennial anniversary of establishment, the Beijing Public Transport Corporation has seen a swift expansion over the years in terms of the number of vehicles and bus routes it now operates.
A bus in 1950 in Beijing [Photo: courtesy of the Beijing Public Transport Corporation]
Comparing to seventy years ago, it only had 49 good buses and five bus routes in the city. Xi Guangdi was the vice general manager of the Beijing Public Transport Corporation. He recalls what the transport system was like in 1949.
"I have to say the transport system was rudimentary. Bus lanes were inefficient because of the lack of vehicles. Some bus lanes didn't even have any buses to run in them. Some were supposed to have, say, ten buses, but in fact there were only two or three buses."
The Beijing Public Transport Corporation has accomplished several important stages of success in a multitude of ways.In August 1949, two month before the Founding Ceremony of the People’s Republic of China, about ninety buses were transported from Nanjing to Beijing by train, in a bid to improve public transport services in the capital. However, when the buses arrived, another serious problem needed to be solved.
Sun Hao is retired now and used to work for the Beijing Public Transport Corporation. He recalls:"We realized there wasn't enough gas to fuel them. To tackle this issue, our company had to set up a specific research team to find other usable energy that could replace gas."
One option was to bring coal from different regions of the country to the capital. According to Xi Guangdi, the chief engineer named Li Dan cooperated with a scientist from Shanghai to build a gas producer, and then started investigating a wide variety of different coals to find the one that could produce the highest amount of energy. Sun Hao was responsible for organizing all these efforts.
"My duty was to burn the coals and record the results. It turned out that coal from Datong, Shaanxi province was the best of all the samples. It could generate a lot of energy, almost as much as charcoal, and it could be lit easily."
The research also stimulated the development of energy in the nation. The next step was to accelerate the growth of vehicle manufacturing. At the beginning, buses used in the Beijing transport system were mainly imported from overseas. Since 1955, the Chinese government started raising investment to research and produce domestic buses. In just one year, the first domestic trolleybus was successfully made and the first combustion engine bus was created the year after.
Bus development in Beijing [Photo: from China Plus]
Since then, several different types of buses have been developed and many of them have become forms of nostalgia for generations born between the seventies and nineties. These buses represent their memories of childhood, and whenever they catch sight of one they're transported back to the past.
As a result of the boom in bus operations since the early 1960s, the bus network grew dramatically. Since then, the Beijing Public Transport Corporation has been concentrating on upgrading its vehicles, improving comfort for passengers and making the transport system more eco-friendly.During these years, it has witnessed great development in the vehicles.
Buses in Beijing have been started installing with collision warning systems, which is helpful to reduce the number of accidents to the lowest number as possible. [Photo: from VCG]
Xu Zhengxiang elaborates on the development of Beijing buses:"Certainly our main incentive is to deliver a better experience for our drivers and passengers. Drivers have given feedback that they feel it's easier to operate the buses, because we are using auto transmission instead of manual transmission. We've been trying our best to make it more comfortable for passengers by improving the texture of the seating and installing air conditioners in the buses. We've also been making huge efforts to develop greener energy to protect the environment. At the same time, passengers' safety is always our priority, so they can have a pleasant journey. Our buses are installed with collision warning systems imported from Israel, which is helpful to reduce the number of accidents to the lowest number as we can."
Xu Zhengxiang says the company has been honoured with witnessing every development the country has achieved, and has made contributions during the process.
"The Beijing Public Transport Corporation is one of the few enterprises in the country that is a reputable time-honored company. Our predecessor was a trolleybus company founded in 1921, and we will celebrate our centenary in two years. After 1949, the Chinese government set out to make investments in building infrastructure, and public transport was at the top of the agenda. As you see nowadays in Beijing, we have achieved impressive development in how we have organized the current public transport system in the capital. We have quite a long history. We are proud of participating in our country's development and have had many valuable historic moments."
"Whenever you're on the road, we're always with you providing the service that our passengers care about most."This is the corporate's motto and the code of conduct for the Beijing Public Transport Corporation.
Public bus transport is just one example of many Chinese industries that have made the transformation successful and achieved sustainable growth. They will no doubt continue to improve, and remain competitive in this era of global competition.