The Transport Politic's Yonah Freemark looks at the dramatic expansion of China's urban rapid-transit networks. Three Chinese cities now occupy the 4th, 5th, and 6th places for highest transit usage in the world (Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing, respectively). In total, "[a]bout $127 billion (or 800 billion yuan) is to be directed over the next three to eight years to build 25 subways and elevated rail lines as a stimulus whose major benefit will be a increase in mobility for the rapidly urbanizing nation," says Freemark.
The Chinese government doesn't seem to be concerned with whether the new lines will ever be able to pay back their initial capital expenses or become operationally independent. Freemark opines on why this might be the case:
"It seems more likely that Chinese officials recognize that the metro investments, in addition to offering an important economic stimulus, provide positive externalities that outweigh the subsidies that will be required to maintain the systems. By setting fares low, the metro lines are able to attract higher ridership and passengers from across the income spectrum. Even in the densest, most-packed city centers, metro systems allow largely congestion-free mobility that is able to handle far more people and provide faster service than equivalent tramway or BRT programs."
"There is a reason these projects have proven so popular among China's citizens. The transportation benefits they offer certainly contribute to economic growth in the center of the cities they serve and likely limit the suburbanization of jobs."
Thanks to Andrew Gorden