Monday, April 29, 2013

Transportation, Age, and Equity in Beijing

An equitable transportation system has been defined as one “whose costs are paid by those who benefit and does not disproportionately favor or deny transportation improvements to certain demographic populations.” [4]  However, in rapidly urbanizing areas such as Beijing, new infrastructure land use patterns tends to favor private auto travel at the expense of more affordable and accessible means such as walking, cycling, or public transit.

Owning and operating a private car is extremely expensive relative to the limited income of a retired Beijinger.   But with increasing sprawl putting more distance between destinations and other modes becoming scarce and/or dangerous, older adults in Beijing are faced with restrictions on their mobility. [4]

In China, it is not only traditional for children to take care of their parents as their parents age, but it is also required by law:

The Constitution of China, and the 1950 Marriage Law both stipulate that “children who have come of age have a duty to support and assist their parents,” and the Criminal Code of 1980 specifies that “those who refuse to support [their parents], and where the circumstances are odious, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of up to five years, or to detention or public surveillance.” Support in these instances includes such daily care as food, clothing, housing, and transportation. [1]

Consequently, the government hasn’t been very concerned with elderly mobility, since Beijing is a dense city where most people don’t drive, and the adult children are expected to do the shopping and run errands for their parents, and often have their parents live with them. But demographic and economic changes are making this more difficult: the price of a small apartment keeps going up, and when single children marry single children, it may not be feasible to move both sets of parents in with them.

To ease the financial burden of transportation for people who may not be able to walk or ride a bike far, one year ago the buses and subway in Beijing became free for the elderly and disabled.[5][6]
For the disabled that cannot use the bus, the City has recently (2010) provided 250 wheelchair-accessible vans to neighborhoods for the disabled to use free-of-charge. Para-transit use is the only mode that has seen a significant increase in mode share from 1986 to 2003, increasing by 250%.

Disable parking spots are still few and far between though, and often occupied by vehicles driven by the non-disabled. Disabled drivers the only place you are likely to find an open disabled parking spot is regional facilities such as major shopping malls and airports. A lack of enforcement probably stems from the fact that disabled persons could not obtain drivers licenses in Beijing until 2010. But now that there are disabled drivers, the city is expanding the number of on-street parking spots that are dedicated for disabled permits from 40 (!) to over 1,000. [2],[4]

One area Beijing is quite strong in is enabling mobility of the blind. A couple PSU students had a summer internship in Beijing last summer, and student Colin Rowan took many pictures of “tactile walkways.”

While US cities only use textured pavement to warn people of an edge, Beijing marks safe pathways down the full length of the sidewalk along arterials. [3]

[1]Chinese Sociology and Anthropology, vol. 34, no. 1, Fall 2001, pp. 35–48
[4] Urban transportation and equity: A case study of Beijing and Karachi, Ahmed, Q., Lu, H., Ye, S. Science Direct, Transportation Research Part A 42 (2008) 125–139

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, Rebecca. Is the idea of free rides on the subway and bus for the elderly and disabled a Beijing phenomenon or do other cities operate under this same rule?

    I'm aware of zero-fare transport especially in European countries such as France, Germany, Czech Republic, and Estonia. While these systems are free they serve a relatively small population. For example, in France the size of the town/city served is primarily under 100,000 residents.

    However, in contrast, Tallinn, Estonia (population 420,000) is currently the largest city to operate zero-fare transportation.

    In the U.S. there are a number of free public transportation systems too, which also serve small populations. These seem to be catered to college towns and tourists areas such as Vail, CO and Coral Gables, FL.

    I'm curious how Beijing manages to operate a zero-fare system for its seniors and disabled with such a large population. Has the system been successful?


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