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ChinaCongestion

From the Telegraph (via AE): Gridlock as China begins its 'Golden Week' holidays :

"When 1.3 billion people all go on holiday at the same time, a little chaos is perhaps to be expected. But it was a generous decision by Chinese politicians to grant free road travel, by suspending motorway tolls, that saw hundreds of thousands of drivers spend the first day of the Mid-Autumn Festival on Sunday in gridlock."

Matt Yglesias @ Slate: Old Infrastructure Is Hard Infrastructure:

"So the question is, what's a mature superpower to do? It's all well and good for China to go from poor to middle income and build a bunch of new infrastructure. But America's infrastructure isn't old out of perversity, it's old because we genuinely built this stuff a long time ago. And having built it, people shaped their lives—dwellings, commerce, commuting patterns—around the presumption that it would be there. Turning it off temporarily to fix it doesn't just carry a financial cost, it's extremely annoying to the people who are hoping to use the infrastructure. Yet at the same time, deferring needed upkeep is very much a kind of false economy.

You can handle this dilemma better or worse and everything I know tells me we're not handling it optimally. But a lot of comparisons between the U.S. and newly industrializing Asia, or even between the Northeast and the Sunbelt, seem to me to not adequately recognize that aging physical infrastructure poses an inherent difficulty."


From WaPo Are China’s high-speed trains heading off the rails?:

"BEIJING — China’s expanding network of ultramodern high-speed trains has come under growing scrutiny here over costs and because of concerns that builders ignored safety standards in the quest to build faster trains in record time.

The trains, a symbol of the country’s rapid development, have drawn praise from President Obama. But what began in February with the firing and detention of the country’s top railway official has spiraled into a corruption investigation that has raised questions about the project’s future.

Last week, the new leadership at the Railways Ministry announced that to enhance safety, the top speed of all trains was being decreased from about 218 mph to 186. Without elaborating, the ministry called the safety situation ‘severe’ and said it was launching safety checks along the entire network of tracks.

The ministry also announced it would reduce ticket prices to boost lagging ridership and would slow construction of high-speed lines to avoid outpacing public demand.

With the latest revelations, the shining new emblem of China’s modernization looks more like an example of many of the country’s interlinking problems: top-level corruption, concerns about construction quality and a lack of public input into the planning of large-scale projects.

Questions have also arisen about whether costs and public needs are too often overlooked as the leadership pursues grandiose projects, which some critics say are for vanity or to engender national pride but which are also seen as an effort to pump up growth through massive public works spending.

The Finance Ministry said last week that the Railways Ministry continued to lose money in the first quarter of this year. The ministry’s debt stands at $276 billion, almost all borrowed from Chinese banks.

‘They’ve taken on a massive amount of debt to build it,’ said Patrick Chovanec, who teaches at Tsinghua University. He said China accelerated construction of the high-speed rail network — including 295 sleek glass-and-marble train stations — as part of the country’s stimulus spending in response to the 2008 global financial crisis.

Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and a longtime critic of high-speed rail, said he worries that the cost of the project might have created a hidden debt bomb that threatens China’s banking system.

‘In China, we will have a debt crisis — a high-speed rail debt crisis,’ he said. ‘I think it is more serious than your subprime mortgage crisis. You can always leave a house or use it. The rail system is there. It’s a burden. You must operate the rail system, and when you operate it, the cost is very high.’

Part of the cost problem has been that each segment of the system has been far more expensive to build than initially estimated, which many trace directly to the alleged corruption being uncovered, including a flawed bidding process.

After the railway official, Liu Zhijun, was detained by the Communist Party’s disciplinary committee, stories began trickling out about how a businesswoman in Shanxi province set up an investment company that took kickbacks from firms awarded contracts on the project.

"

China’s Bad Growth Bet

Nouriel Roubini at Project Syndicate writes about: China’s Bad Growth Bet :

"The problem, of course, is that no country can be productive enough to reinvest 50% of GDP in new capital stock without eventually facing immense overcapacity and a staggering non-performing loan problem. China is rife with overinvestment in physical capital, infrastructure, and property. To a visitor, this is evident in sleek but empty airports and bullet trains (which will reduce the need for the 45 planned airports), highways to nowhere, thousands of colossal new central and provincial government buildings, ghost towns, and brand-new aluminum smelters kept closed to prevent global prices from plunging.

Commercial and high-end residential investment has been excessive, automobile capacity has outstripped even the recent surge in sales, and overcapacity in steel, cement, and other manufacturing sectors is increasing further. In the short run, the investment boom will fuel inflation, owing to the highly resource-intensive character of growth. But overcapacity will lead inevitably to serious deflationary pressures, starting with the manufacturing and real-estate sectors."


China's Ghost Cities

Video from SBS on China's Ghost Cities

The interesting thing is that even in "communist" China, urban population growth is a self-reinforcing belief system system. If people believe that other people/firms will move there, they too will move there. If they believe it will fail, they won't and it fails. Changing expectations is critical for success. The commitment game is crucial here, and hence there is an important role for urban entrepreneurs or prophets or boosters who sell cities.

Urban construction in China however is lacking a price feedback signal, since it is being funded by the communist government. "It is said there are around 64 million empty apartment in China" clearly these are mislocated with respect to demand.

See also about Ordos

Jam-busting service on the road in many cities

Drivers offered a route out of traffic snarl-ups as firms roll out new idea

BEIJING - With more Chinese people getting behind the wheel every day, traffic jams are a major headache in most cities but the gridlock has become an opportunity for some entrepreneurs who are offering an escape route - for a price.

Drivers who get stuck in traffic in some cities can now get on their mobile phones and call for a substitute to take their cars to their destinations while the frustrated drivers are whisked away on the back of a motorcycle.

"One important source of our customers is female drivers, some of whom feel physically uncomfortable if they wait in cars in traffic for too long," said Huang Xizhong, manager of a company that offers the service in Wuhan, the capital of Central China's Hubei province.

"Other customers are those with urgent dates or business meetings to go to, and those who have flights to catch and can't afford to wait in a traffic jam for too long."

Huang said he started offering the service last year after receiving a number of calls from people who were stuck in traffic.

The service has also hit the streets in Jinan, capital of East China's Shandong province. There, drivers can be bailed out of a back-up for upwards of 400 yuan ($60), according to a report in Guangzhou Daily.

But some businesses that offer driving services in other cities are hesitating to jump on the bandwagon.

"There is a demand for the service, but it's risky," said a manager surnamed Zhang at a Beijing automobile service company.

Zhang said his employees would face hazards if he started to offer the service, such as having to drive motorcycles into crowded areas and carve their way through traffic, possibly on freeways, in order to pick up clients.

Under current traffic regulations, it is illegal for motorcyclists to use the freeway, he explained.

"As far as I know, no company in Beijing has started that kind of business," Zhang added.

And while the idea has taken off elsewhere, car drivers in the capital have their reservations, saying they could not trust a stranger to look after their vehicles.

Lei Ting, an office worker with a multinational software company in Beijing, said: "I'd rather wait in my car in a traffic jam if I did not feel that the company or the driver was trustworthy."

But as one of the world's most congested cities, it's easy to imagine that there will be room for such a service in the capital.

According to a global survey conducted by IBM last year, Beijing is tied with Mexico City as having the "world's worst commute". Some 84 percent of respondents said they spent an hour on the road each day on average in each direction.

In a major effort to tackle the gridlock in the capital, the municipal government launched a new set of traffic measures on Dec 23, including sharply limiting the number of new cars it will allow on city streets. In the coming year, the capital will only approve the registration of 240,000 new vehicles - about one-third of last year's number.

The limitations in a city of more than 19 million residents sparked a frenzy of activity among would-be car buyers who scrambled to register their names with the online lottery system that will decide which residents will get to buy a new car.

Throughout China, congestion is becoming a major problem, not only in mega-cities such as Beijing and Shanghai but smaller ones and even some county seats in coastal provinces.

Cao Yin contributed to this story.

See also Marginal Revolution


P.S. IBM on world's worst commute must be biased, since my guess is most travelers in Beijing do not use an automobile.

From Fox


Chinese farmer gets life for evading highway tolls
Jan 14, 2011 12:59 AM EST
A Chinese farmer has been sentenced to life in prison for avoiding highway tolls adding up to more than 3.5 million yuan ($530,000).

State media this week reported that a court in the central province of Henan sentenced Shi Jianfeng on Dec. 21 for fraud. He was also fined 2 million yuan ($302,000).

The news caused an uproar among some Chinese, who argued in online postings and commentaries that shorter sentences have been given out for the more serious crimes of rape or murder.

The outcry was so loud that the Intermediate People's Court in the city of Pingdingshan held a news conference this week to defend its decision.

A report in the People's Daily newspaper said Shi avoided paying tolls more than 2,300 times by using fake military license plates between May 2008 and January 2009 as he ran a business transporting gravel with his two vans.

Military vehicles don't have to pay highway tolls.

The People's Daily report cited prosecutors in the city of Pingdingshan.

With China's state media tightly controlled by the government, some citizens pounce on stories that they feel illustrate injustice.

In this case, their complaints strayed beyond Shi's case to popular complaints that highway toll fees are too high, especially for a farmer.

One legal expert said the severity of the sentence in Shi's case comes from the fact that he faked military items, including uniforms.

"Based on the explanation, the court certainly can hand down such a sentence," Qu Xinjiu, a law professor at China University of Political Sciences and Law, was quoted as saying by the English-language Global Times newspaper this week.

Other legals experts told state media they did not expect Shi would be able to pay his large fine.


Another brick in the wall for making road pricing acceptable.

Land Use and Transport in China

Wuhan – Guangzhou High-speed Train

Wuhan – Guangzhou High-speed Train

For all those who say since China is building high speed rail, the US should as well:

From eChinacities.com Chinese Academy of Sciences: High-Speed Rail Construction Unsustainable

"The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) reported to the State Council recently, urging the large-scale high-speed railway construction projects in China to be re-evaluated. The CAS worries that China may not be able to afford such a large-scale construction of high-speed rail, and such a large scale high-speed rail network may not be practical.  

High-speed rail train runs at over 250 km per hour, about twice the normal speed of a regular train. Under the current plan, the central government has approved to build, by 2020, 16,000 km of high speed rail providing access to about 90% of the Chinese population. Some local media have reported recently that the recently enabled Wuhan - Guangzhou high-speed rail is currently running an average daily attendance of less than half capacity, while the newly opened Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed rail attendance is even lower. The main reason for the high-speed rail low attendance is that fares are too high; the high-speed railway ticket prices are usually double or higher than normal train fares.

The report submitted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences said China's high-speed rail construction has caused debt that has already reached unsustainable levels; particularly since the end of 2008, the government introduced a stimulus plan to fight the global economic crisis and the size of local government borrowing is already very high."

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

From the AP China's 60-mile traffic jam could last for weeks

China's 60-mile traffic jam could last for weeks

By ANITA CHANG , Associated Press
Last Update: August 24, 2010 - 6:56 AM
BEIJING - A massive traffic jam in north China that stretches for dozens of miles and hit its 10-day mark on Tuesday stems from road construction in Beijing that won't be finished until the middle of next month, an official said.

Bumper-to-bumper gridlock spanning for 60 miles (100 kilometers) with cars moving little more than a half-mile (one kilometer) a day at one point has improved since this weekend, said Zhang Minghai, director of Zhangjiakou city's Traffic Management Bureau general office.

But he said he wasn't sure when the situation along the Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway would return to normal.

The traffic jam started Aug. 14 on a stretch of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway. That section has frequently been congested, especially after large coalfields were discovered in Inner Mongolia, Zhang said. Traffic volume has increased 40 percent every year.


Drivers stranded in the gridlock in the Inner Mongolia region and Hebei province, headed toward Beijing, passed the time sleeping, walking around, or playing cards and chess. Local villagers were doing brisk business selling instant noodles, boxed lunches and snacks, weaving between the parked trucks on bicycles.

The highway construction in Beijing that is restricting inbound traffic flow and causing the jam "will not be finished until Sept. 17," he said.

Authorities were trying to speed up traffic by allowing more trucks to enter Beijing, especially at night, Zhang said. They also asked trucking companies to suspend operations and advised drivers to take alternate routes.

China's roadways are increasingly overburdened as the number of private vehicles booms along with commercial truck traffic hauling materials like coal and food to cities. Traffic slowdowns because of construction and accidents are common, though a 10-day traffic jam is unusual even in China.


From Global Times in China (via XC) High-speed rail saves time, but price gives pause

"High-speed rails are actually making losses right now," said Sun Zhang, a professor with the Urban Rail & Railway Engineering Department of Shanghai-based Tongji University. "The high ticket price is surely a reason for the loss. At present, most Chinese people want to save money rather than save time."

High-speed railway should learn from airlines and offer discounts during periods of lower ridership and to those who place early orders, said Mao Shoulong , a professor at Renmin University of China.

From the AP (via Strib) Hong Kongers protest $7.1B high-speed rail link to China, question legislature's democracy

...

[A] $55 billion Hong Kong dollar ($7.1 billion) project to link Hong Kong to a national [Chinese] high-speed rail network has run into a growing protest movement analysts say stems from the lack of democracy in this wealthy former British colony of 7 million people.

Hundreds protested in a public square next to Hong Kong's legislature last week as lawmakers debated the proposed rail link to the southern Chinese city Guangzhou. Several hundred camped out in the square again on Friday.

Demonstrators object to the project because it would force many residents to relocate and could cause major traffic congestion and other environmental problems. They also question the economic benefits touted by the government and say the approval process has been clouded by conflicts of interest of some lawmakers linked to industries and companies that could profit from the project.

...

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

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