Rural Transport: the Far East v East Anglia

Apologies for my recent absence – I have been away in China on family business.

And took the opportunity to look and report back at the state of transport in this huge, crowded, and fast-evolving country.

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Main Street, Qufu

I love travelling by public transport, and so took the chance of using every conceivable form in my solitary travels, from gaosu (highspeed train) to ordinary train, to long-distance bus, to metro, to city bus, to minibus, to taxi, to tuktuk to bicycle rickshaw and horse-drawn cart – and am happy to report that all these forms are simultaneously alive and flourishing despite the rapid increase in car ownership.

On the left is a picture  main street in Qufu old town, in Shandong province. It is two hours away from big-city Nanjing by highspeed bullet train. There is a huge variety of vehicles driven along this street, powered by legs, hooves and electricity as well as the internal combustion engine. No one variety has booted any other form of transport out of the way. As yet.

In horrifying contrast, here is a picture I took of the Nanjing South railway concourse on the bright sunny day before.

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The silvery beauty of poor air quality in Nanjing

It doesn’t look horrifying, does it? Not a car in sight, the temperature 25o and there wasn’t a cloud in the  sky (“万里无云as they say in China) but the air is filled with a silvery cloud – the deadly emissions of the millions of private motors that fill the city these days and make crossing each road an act fraught with difficulty.

China’s air quality standards are less stringent than those of the WHO, or the US -when it comes to particulate matter, there’s currently an  annual standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter for PM2.5  (The WHO recommends a maximum of 10 micrograms, and the US 12).

Nanjing – the 24th most polluted city in China –  has an annual average of 75.3 micrograms, double China’s standard – with an maximum of 312 micrograms on a bad day. These measures are less than half the measures of average and maximum air pollution of China’s most polluted cities!

And yet – just like in the UK- establishments in China ask smokers to smoke outside – in both cases “because we don’t want to breathe your fumes!” Hah! (I speak as a non-driving non-smoker.)

Its a worrying situation. Yet unlike Suffolk, China hasn’t turned its back on those who can’t afford the internal combustion engine that is poisoning us all. You can get on a bus in any city and travel as far as you like for a flat rate of 20p. You pay a bit more in the countryside, but for a 7 day-a-week many-times-an-hour service. Cities are busy building and expanding undergrounds and all new developments are bus-accessible.  Sounds like a happy dream, doesn’t it?

We in the west feel free to criticise the unregulated Chinese rush to private car-ownership that is our own symbol of ‘making it.’ But we are far from keen – particularly in the UK countryside – to change our own ways. And even though we may think the Chinese are making ‘bad’ choices – they still HAVE a choice, because they still have cheap, effective and expanding public transport services in town and countryside alike.

I spoke passionately on the problems of Suffolk rural transport on Friday, 19th April. You can hear what I said here (about 43 mins in) – for the next few days at least.

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