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A sub-standard system

01-21-2011 14:37 BJT


If you really want to get to know some friends, the Beijing subway is the place to go. Packed together like livestock in a battery farm, you can be assured of an intimate experience. Personal space is a luxury commodity that was long since sold-out here. Seats are like precious stones; should you have the luck to chance upon one, you truly have been blessed.

Even on a lip-cracking, toe-numbing December day, the subway is a furnace that is never extinguished. Moreover, despite it’s cocktail of CO2, SO2 and various other lethal chemicals ending with “-ide”, the air in Beijing feels like the breath of God himself, compared to the stifling heat of the underground.

It’s line 1, and it’s rush hour.

On paper, it looks perfect. 2 RMB per journey, TV monitors in every car, an easy-to-navigate system, air-conditioning and much more.

Compare this with my native London for instance. In our most central zone, a single journey will set you back 4 pounds, about 38 RMB, no matter how short or long your journey is. The cars are poorly ventilated, the lights regularly fail, and works frequently impede your much-loathed commute.

So, how on earth can Beijing survive by charging people a price twenty times smaller than its British twin, while still providing superior technology and a generally more efficient service?

Well, with your hard-earned 2RMB, you pay to be stampeded into a car, suffocated alongside other commuters, and finally thrown out into your destination with a glorious, newfound appreciation for space.

It’s not exactly a service worth paying top dollar for.

So, what’s to be done? Well, in November, facing heavy criticism as subway overcrowding reached breaking point, the underground announced its plans to limit passenger numbers. Installing iron railings to ease congestion, dividing passengers into groups; these were just some of the much-anticipated measures to be introduced. Regular commuters rejoiced. Was this to be the turning point for the infamous Beijing Subway?

Hopes were dispelled that month almost as quick as cold weather set in. A spokesperson later admitted that, instead of easing congestion, these measures would only slow the flow of passengers. However, those masterminds at the underground had already conceived a cunning backup plan. As the spokesperson said, the “main device that will be used will be a rope fence to control line-ups.”


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