Monday, October 4, 2010

Changing Patterns of Transportation in China

I  first visited China in 1983, and I still remember the city streets filled with bicycles and rickshaws. I have arrived in China now, 27 years later, and the cities have been transformed. The road from the airport to Tianjin, nearly two hours away, is as modern as one can imagine.  The bullet train runs parallel to the highway, passing the coach.  In Tianjin itself, the streets and commercial districts are much like other large cities around the world.  The bikes, alas, are nearly gone.  Sure, there are a few bikes in sight, but you’ll find way more bicyclists in the European cities of Amsterdam or Berlin. There is ample room for the bicyclists should they come back, but they have been replaced by small cars, lots of taxis, and the more than occasional trucks carrying coal.  There is a modern train connecting the terminals at the airport, and, at the convention center, open shuttle buses like the ones found in theme parks quickly and efficiently transport participants to and from the registration area to the halls itself.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a good Metro system for the city itself, with only one line. Residents are forced to rely on autos or city buses. One major difference, though, is the price of transportation.  Gasoline is still $4-5/gallon, but my one-hour taxi ride is less than $20, and the two-hour coach from Beijing to Tianjin was only $15. 

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