Underground system on the right track

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 March, 1999, 12:00am

As the train pulled to a halt, Ou Xiaochao lifted her plastic bag from the speckled granite station platform and shifted her way past a handful of departing passengers into the subway carriage.

She was returning home from work by train for only the second time, but she was already sold on the idea.

'This is much better than the bus. I save about half an hour this way,' she said.

The paging company statistician has joined a small vanguard of Guangzhou residents who say they will abandon buses, bicycles and motorcycles to ride the city's new underground system.

In the months ahead, city authorities are betting Ms Ou will be joined by tens of thousands of like-minded commuters.

The 12.7 billion yuan (HK$11.8 billion) line, which opened for trial operations last month, stands as the lynchpin of Guangzhou's plans to build itself out of its nightmarish traffic gridlock and develop an effective public transport system by the end of the next decade.

The Guangzhou Government has vowed to invest tens of billions of yuan over the next five years to complete a 26.7km inner-city ring-road, three new river crossings and a second underground line.

Whether such ambitions are realised in the short-term will depend largely on the willingness of local residents to change commuting habits.

When the 18.5km rail line officially opens at the end of June, ticket prices are expected to start at two yuan for short-distances, increasing to six yuan. The price for using the system will be about two or three times more than the 45-yuan monthly bus ticket most residents use.

Local media have noted that many inner-city residents do not live within walking distance of any of the underground's 16 stations. Despite efforts by the local transport department to co-ordinate bus routes with the stations, many commuters say they will shy away from the trains for the time being.

The Guangzhou Metro Corporation, responsible for operating the line, acknowledges that short-term hiccups and losses are expected.

But the company is hopeful locals will take advantage of the underground's six downtown stations, which go through some of the most heavily patronised shopping districts.

Standing at the Yangji station platform, office supplies salesman Wang Yaoming shared the company's enthusiasm for the endeavour. Mr Wang, using the trains for the third time, was convinced underground travel was the way forward.

'This is going to make going to work much easier,' he said. 'My journey is now going to be 15 minutes, compared with 40 minutes by bus. The tickets are slightly expensive, but it's acceptable.' Mr Wang said Guangzhou had the most modern underground system in China.

'This is much cleaner than Beijing's subway and is very similar to the one in Hong Kong,' he said.