Hangzhou City Profile

To investigate the management of the public transport systems in cities

Flora Xiao 10HZ

West Lake, Hangzhou


Hangzhou, a sub-provincial city, is located in Eastern China just 180 kilometers southwest of Shanghai. According to the 2010 Chinese census, the city had a population of near 9,000,000. Despite the fact that they are not as populous as some of the other international cities in China, it is still considered one of the most populated cities in the nation, ranking 20th in terms of population size. Hangzhou is still a strategic trading post, the economy of the city is mainly based on industrial development, agriculture (tea production), textiles (silk production), medicine and information communication technology.

The city is most well known for its magnificent natural scenery, the undisputed star of the show is 西湖, the West Lake. It is also typically referred to as 'Paradise on Earth', derived from the old saying “上有天堂,下有苏杭”, which essentially translates into 'Heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below'. Hangzhou is a prominent tourist destination with many local attractions and heritage sites that is popular amongst the local Chinese population as well as foreigners. A bonus for tourists going around the city is that Hangzhou is very easy to get around and there are many means of transportation available with high accessibility and affordability.

The public transportation system of Hangzhou is not nearly as developed as some of the other major cities around the world, but its form of transportation is certainly unique and innovative. Ever since the declension of the use of bicycles in China in 2000, China has been seeking ways to reintegrate cycling as a part of everyday life for those who reside in the more developed cities.

China has been composing plans for urbanization and development for a while now (although it can be argued that urbanization is not the right approach and will result  in causing more harm than good), and those plans, along with many other social problems, came with traffic congestion as one of the major issues the city(especially in urban areas) is facing. In Hangzhou, 80% of the population identified traffic congestion as their number one problem, and this is when the government saw their chance of re-enforcing public transportation systems that can ease  the situation.

It eventually led the city to implement a public bicycle sharing project and this was launched in 2008, in hopes to be able to address and mitigate the issue of traffic congestion and improve the traffic conditions. The approach taken by the government has provided a very positive outcome other than only to solve the problems of traffic congestion, but also to offer citizens and visitors a self-sustaining service that helps in improving the people's qualities of life.

There is no need to worry, there are more than just one mean of public transport, of course. The city also offers public services such as buses, subways and taxis, those were not discussed above as they are very commonly seen in other cities and does not have any singularity to it. However, those means of transportation will be addressed in more detail below.

Grand Canal, Tangxi Hangzhou


The city has a profound historical background that dates over 2,200 years back. Hangzhou is considered one of the seven ancient capitals of China and was also a capital of state during the Southern Song Dynasty. In the 13th century, Marco Polo came across the 'Paradise on Earth' and he referred to the city as 'the Most Splendid and Luxurious City in the Wolrd', most likely due to its large amounts of silk production. Marco Polo also said that: "the number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof".

It was also said that Hangzhou and Suzhou both benefited from its strategic position, for they were both situated at the southern end of the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal was built in the beginning of the 5th Century BC and continued onwards from centuries succeeding the aforementioned date. The now classified as a UNESCO heritage site is the longest artificial river in the world and has total length 1,776km. This placement allowed the transport of grains and other goods to and from Beijing as well as other regions of China. The canal acted as a main artery for the transportation of the said products.

Hangzhou flourished at the beginning of the 12th century as it was considered the capital of the Song dynasty empire. When the imperial family settled in Hangzhou for temporary residence when they were defeated by the Mongolians (also known as northern barbarians), thousands and millions of people swarmed into the city, making Hangzhou one of the most populated cities at that time. The Song dynasty was known for its poetry, artists, merchants that gained wealth from the advanced commerce of silk. Many of China's most famous and renowned poets existed in that era and they all left a great legacy behind.

Hangzhou has the world's largest bike sharing system

Image Analysis

The image above shows a station of the Hangzhou Public Bike System. The multiple lines of bicycles are for rent and is extensively accepted and adopted by the local community. Every user has to pay a RMB200 deposit in order to obtain the smart card that allows citizens to use the bike sharing system.

The state-owned enterprise: Hangzhou Public Transport Corporation, launched bike sharing system on May 1st 2008. This project is said to be the "Biggest, Baddest Bike Share in the world", data shows that the usage of the bikes provided by this project surpasses the numbers of those in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The local government invested 180 million RMB (equivalent to USD$26 million) into launching this program.

Public services are categorized into first, second, third and fourth generation services. In its current state, the Hangzhou Public Bicycle system has been classified as a third generation service. (third generation services include features such as the use of electronic cards, automated check-ins and check-outs). The system has potential of becoming a fourth generation service if it starts integrating with other means of public transportation in the future, in the meantime it is still considered a third generation service because it is not as developed as other forms of transport that are available. This particular service lacks in real-time information and a clean bicycle redistribution strategy that needs to be adapted in order to make the system a more widely used mean of transportation amongst the local population.

At the beginning of the program's launch, the city was only provided 2,800 bicycles and 61 stations whereas 3 years later in March 2011, the program has expanded to having 60,600 bicycles and 2,416 stations citywide. As those statistics show, the program has expanded by a lot over the past few years and the local government has clear intentions on making this a fourth generation, more advanced form of transportation.

A survey was conducted to investigate reasons as to why citizens would select the bike sharing system over other means of transportation. The survey, with 275 participants, showed that 31% of the people thought the bike sharing system was time-saving (conveniently avoids traffic congestions especially during rush hour) , another 35% thought it was convenient for transfer (stations were situated 300m apart and less time is spent on finding a 'parking space'). Other reasons include: money-saving, health-beneficial and environmentally friendly.  

Documentary/Qualitative Data Analysis

The documentary highlights the benefits and advantages of the Public Bike Sharing System. There were several interviews conducted to show the public opinion on this recently launched system that hasn't been around for nearly as long as the other more common, conventional forms of public transportation.

It is said that the new system has integrated very well with the other forms of public transportation within the city and is now considered a formal mean of public transport that has been adopted by the locals and the city's visitors. They got an overwhelming response from the public when the system was first launched and did not expect the service to be expanded to such large scales and become as developed and widespread as it is today.

It focuses more on the positive aspects of the system and is using the documentary as an advertisement to promote the system. It was really great to see that the video corporated a diverse range of opinions, both from local residents and the foreign visitors as both the parties would obviously have different opinions. The system benefits different people in various ways, from conducting interviews you can see whether or not a person is in favor or against the said system. The affordable, convenient form of transportation might not be for everybody, some might not like how this form of transportation exposes them directly to greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles around them, among multiple other reasons.

It is said in the documentary that The bike is free for the first hour, for every additional hour after that they pay RMB1, RMB2, and RMB4 respectively, for the passing of each consecutive hour. Since the users only pay for the duration of time the bike since its checked in and checked out, therefore it is typical for the users to switch their bikes every few stations, to avoid having to pay additional charges and they can ride around the entire city of Hangzhou free of charge.

Hangzhou Subway System

Subway Map Analysis

The map above shows the lines of the subway available in Hangzhou. Even though there is no doubt that the subway system in Hangzhou is not as developed as those in other major cities in China and is not used as often as the others, it is still quite an advanced system and over the years of its existence, the system has been integrated into the different forms of public transportation.

The Hangzhou Metro, although not as commonly used as the other means of transport in the city, is still a major mean of transportation for those who use daily to get to and from work, in the hopes of avoiding rush hour and it's nightmare like traffic congestions. Just like the Public Bike System, the metro was promoted as a mean do transport that won't disrupt the people's daily lives by getting them stuck in traffic jams and resulting in them turning up to work late.

The Hangzhou metro is a relatively new system that has only been developed in the past few years. It has come a long way since and is now a lot more operational and has undergone major expansion and development projects funded by the government. In many other major cities such as Beijing and Hong Kong as well as international cities like New York and Tokyo, subways are considered the main mean of transportation around the city, of which statistics show that the number surpasses those who use private vehicles to get around.

Therefore in order for Hangzhou to progress to develop into a more advanced city, it is essential for them to expand their railway and underground networks as it would  be a lot more convenient for the gradually increasing population due to the urbanization taking place in Hangzhou and other parts of China.

The subway, as mentioned above, is not yet developed to its full potential and is still undergoing major constructions and renovations in order to further improve and implement the use of this system. The map shows that the subway lines cover a small portion of the city, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities for improvement as well as areas that require additional attention as it can be vital to seeing whether or not this particular system will become a widely used service in the city of Hangzhou.

Map showing the route of bus Y9

Bus Map Analysis

Unlike the aforementioned subway system of Hangzhou, it's bus system is very well developed and is adopted in society. Large portion of the population rely on the public buses to get around, this is mainly because the bus routes cover almost all of the areas around the city therefore you can reach pretty much all the destinations without having to interchange with another form of transportation.

Not to mention, the bus service has set time schedules that are only a few minutes apart. There are two different types of buses and their boarding and getting off process is quick and effective, which is a quality that many busy office workers look for these days as they do not want to turn up to work late.

The prices of the buses are reasonable. They are definitely not the cheapest and you can get around town at around the same pace without having to pay anything, however for those who don't want to exercise and still want to be able to reach the destination in around the same amount of time they will choose to take the public bus instead as it a very well organised and developed system that has deeply integrated itself into the transportation system of Hangzhou.

One suggestion that can be made to further improve this system is for the government to set up special lanes for the buses. There is already an existing system in the city, it's called the BRT and they are a special type of buses that are express and has their exclusive lanes to avoid traffic congestions. If there were bus lanes that were strictly reserved for public buses only then the problem of bus riders being stuck in traffic will be relieved, even if it is only by the slightest bit.

Quantitative Data Analysis

The table above illustrates how those who use the public bikes on a regular basis has shifted from other means of transportation to this one. The data shows that the majority of those who use the public bikes previously took the public bus and/or walked. Which is understandable because on public buses you are prone to traffic jams and walking is a lot more time consuming and cannot be done for long distances. This proves that the public bikes have now become an alternative form of transport for those who find other forms of transport inconvenient.

The data shows that 30% of the people are substituting their taxi rides for bike rides instead. This can be for a number of reasons such as but not limited to, the fact that bikes cost less than taxi rides, you won't be stuck in traffic and/or riding bikes on a regular basis can account for your daily exercise. For those who don't own private vehicles, bike sharing is common and evidently a lot more dominant, the bottom section of the table suggests that respondents who don't own private vehicles have adopted the bike sharing system and is more widely used amongst that population.

The table also shows a surprising statistic: 78% of those who do own private vehicles have started using the bikes instead of driving themselves and 50% used the bikes instead of the public buses.For those who do not own private vehicles, 60% of them have started using the bikes instead of walking. All this comes to the same conclusion: the public bike system allows people to avoid traffic jams, especially during rush hour as well as go for longer distances than solely on foot.

The table as a whole reiterates the importance and the place this newly launched system holds within the city and how it has integrated itself into the community over the course of the last 7 years (as of 2015). The bikes have truly become a sensational example of how an innovative idea can change the way of which a city operates.

Quantitative/Qualitative Data Analysis

The pie charts above illustrate the purposes of bike riding within the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. As previously stated, the ridership of bikes in Hangzhou surpasses all other cities in China, and unsurprisingly, the rest of the world. As shown in the pie charts, Hangzhou's respondents had a more diverse purpose and bikes were not limited to only be used for certain purposes. It serves to be multipurpose and is a convenient, widely used form of transportation amongst the locals.

Having lived here for a few months, I was surprised I never noticed the significance and importance of the system within the people's lives until I was doing this project. This shows how city communication and interaction between local and international communities. It might be a very popular form of transport amongst the locals, but the foreigners that live in the city may not be aware of its convenience.

Referring back to the chart, the Hangzhou one shows that a significant portion of the population use the bikes for going and coming back from work and the rest are used for miscellaneous purposes like tourism and shopping. Unlike the two other pie charts, Hangzhou's chart shows a nearly equivalent number of people who use the bikes to go to and from work whereas in the other two cities there is a variance in number, in Beijing they use it more for going to work whereas in Shanghai they use it more for coming home from work.

Looking into the future

Hangzhou's transportation system is not without potential to further expand and develop. There is no doubt that if the government allows for such actions to be taken, Hangzhou will have adopted one of the most advanced, unique and innovative forms of transportation in the world. Hangzhou possesses all the basic forms of transportation that can definitely be further improved and can also work on promoting the public bike system more as it has shown to be popular and well-liked amongst the local community, not to mention all the health and environmental benefits it comes with.

While Hangzhou does not have the same resources as other international cities, it can still grow into one of the most prosperous and renowned city nationwide because of its already advanced silk industry, but also its different, well managed transportation system that its citizens majorly benefit from.

Although it is not famous, right now, for its transportation system, specifically the public bike sharing system, it will be. In the near future when the government is dedicated to investing in such a valuable idea, the system will grow immensely, at a rapid speed.

Works Cited

"The Coolest Bike Share System: Hangzhou, China." GOOD Magazine. 26 May 2013. Web. 27 May 2015.

Shaheen, Susan A. "China’s Hangzhou Public Bicycle." TRR 2247 (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 27 May 2015.

"Hangzhou Metro System." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.

Hangzhou: Public Bike Sharing System. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.

"游9线/Y9/西湖观光线 上行 动物园——黄龙旅游集散中心." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.

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