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April 3rd, 2017
Infrastructure • Cities

Improving Urban Transport in Wuhan

In recent years, the rapid growth of the Chinese economy has begun to place enormous stress on the country's relatively undeveloped transport infrastructure. A pilot project in the central Chinese city of Wuhan has invested significant time and resources in improving the services offered by railways and road and water buses, as well as providing an enhanced environment for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

The initiative

The authorities in Wuhan undertook the construction of a multi-network solution to the transport needs, carrying out the following:

  • “The construction of a mass rapid transit system...

    “Building the station facilities.

  • “Strengthen low-carbon energy transportation... ensure transportation capacity (expansion) to meet the demand from the passengers [and ] increase the investment in green buses... gradually increase the energy saving, environmental protection, and new energy cars in the public transport system.
  • “Development of the water bus. Expand the scope of water bus service, extends the service routes, enhance water commuter capacity, and construction of Wuhan's distinctive... ferry transportation.
  • “Promote smart transportation, [including] information system providing services to the public
  • “Promote slow travel pattern to complement the bus system.
  • “Build a smooth convergence bicycle system.
  • “Build a safe and comfortable walking system.”[4]

The challenge

For the first 30 years of the People's Republic of China (PRC), “goods transport was considered very important for agricultural and industrial products, while passenger transport was basically neglected because of the low demand for travel in that period”.[1]

In the 1980s, “the demand for travel and the number of motor vehicles rapidly increased in this decade, generating much pressure on the insufficient road infrastructure, particularly in the large cities”.[2]

The transport situation of the city of Wuhan, which is situated on the Yangtse River in the central Chinese province of Hubei, typified the problem. “Like most of China's cities, Wuhan has enjoyed rapid economic growth and urbanisation over the past two decades. Yet those changes have been accompanied by equally rapid motorisation and the rise of associated problems with congestion, air pollution, and road safety. The municipal government has been working to address these problems through a variety of initiatives, including better traffic management.”[3]

  • By the 2000s, there were many transport needs for the administration to address:
  • Better and greener buses to ease urban traffic congestion
  • More extensive railway lines
  • More transport hubs, such as airports
  • More convenient pedestrian routes through the city
  • Greater use of cycling

There was also a perceived need to expand car ownership to increase individuals' mobility. This was offset by a motorway development, the Ruijin to Ganzhou expressway, which was cofinanced by the World Bank and sought to divert much of the motor traffic away from the centre of Wuhan.

The public impact

These transport initiatives had the following outcomes:

  • “In Wuhan, the total number of passenger cars grew from about 470,000 in 2002 to 740,000 in 2006 and then to 1.3 million in 2010. However, household car ownership, at 0.22 per household, is still one-third that in Beijing and thus has the potential to grow further.”[5]
  • “20 new pure LNG buses start to be used for Bus no. 527, for the first time in 2012.
  • “600 new energy buses (diesel-electric hybrid or natural gas fueled buses) were introduced in Wuhan, meeting the China Ⅲ emission standards.
  • “In 2013 June, the first LNG bus line for trans-city trip (Wuhan-Xinzhou) launched, composed of 40 LNG buses (2.6 million yuan), with daily passengers around 6000 people, and 180 round trips (10 minutes/trip), saving 20% total cost of fuels per year...
  • “By early 2012, 1218 smart car hire service sites [and] 70,000 bike rentals were built... and every 500 metres there is a public bicycle service site.”[6]

Stakeholder engagement

There was a wide range of stakeholders at a national level, such as the China Management Science Research Institute, the Construction Commission, the Ministry of Public Safety, and the Transport Planning Institute. There were also a large number of local Wuhan stakeholders, such as the Planning Department and the Traffic Management Commission.

The World Bank was the principal international stakeholder, engaged in the financing of the transport development and in monitoring environmental issues: “the first draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was prepared in December 2002 which was pre-appraised by World Bank”.[7]

This level of stakeholder engagement was a blueprint for other Chinese projects: “the project is the country's first ‘government-led, corporate contractors, community involvement, market oriented operation' model, and has been replicated in four other provinces (Jiangxi, Anhui, Shaanxi, and Guangdong)”.[8]

Political commitment

The municipal administration of Wuhan demonstrated its commitment by investing a significant amount of funding in the transport initiative:

  • “[The] Wuhan government planned to invest 49.1 billion yuan to build the new eight new urban rail transit system (2011-2015).
  • “[It] planned to invest 1 billion yuan to replace the 3,000 high energy consuming and polluting buses to greener ones (2012-2014)."[9]

In this the provincial administration was supported by the national government, and much of this financing was invested in Wuhan: “the Hubei province received financial support of 40.62 million yuan from the national energy saving transportation special fund”.[10]

Public confidence

The researchers were unable to find any publicly available material as evidence for public confidence or the absence of it. We welcome information or leads on this aspect of the case study.

Clarity of objectives

The objectives set out at the beginning of the project were clear, measurable and quantifiable and included the following:

  • To ensure that “by 2015... 90% of motor vehicle travel within the second Ring would be no longer than 30 minutes.
  • “Complete the main city expressway transport network of the total mileage of 270 km, upgrade 77 km of main road to expressways), [and] increase the coverage of [the] expressways system.
  • “[Make] public transport... the main urban travel pattern to ease urban traffic congestion: in the main city area bus travel (excluding walking) accounting for more than 45% of urban transportation...
  • “Built a total length of approximately 100 km of four rail lines... a total length of 120 km of bus dedicated lane network.
  • “Construction of five comprehensive transportation hubs: Wuhan, Wuchang, Hankou main railway stations, Tianhe Airport and Liufang Airport.
  • “Add 90 new buses every year, to reach... 8400 buses by [the] end of 2015...
  • “Replace 3,000 high energy consuming and polluting buses... of which natural gas vehicles, trams, other clean energy vehicles, hybrid vehicles, pure electric vehicles etc. to account for 70 % or more.”[11]

Strength of evidence

Evidence for the Wuhan urban transport project was drawn from various sources, such as that of Beijing's own experience. “In 1997, Beijing issued a traffic management regulation stipulating that all vehicles should install equipment for purifying exhaust gas. As a result environmental impact research became an important task... It was increasingly recognised that physical extension and improvement of road infrastructures would never fully meet the growing transport demand. With this in mind and more information on the experiences of developed cities, transport professionals introduced some policy measures such as the demand management.”[12]

The meetings of the Academic Group for Metropolitan Transport Planning in Beijing “played an important role in spreading transport concepts, experience, technologies and policies, and attracted participants from governmental agencies, such as the State Commission of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Construction, the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Railways”.[13]

The project was in some senses speculative in that it was a pilot for other cities in China: “Wuhan city circle was approved by the National Development and Reform Commission as the national comprehensive reform pilot area for developing resource saving and environmentally friendly society... [and] in 2013, Wuhan became the national pilot city on Bus Municipality and on green low carbon development.”[14]


The financial feasibility of the projects was addressed by the large amounts invested in public transport infrastructure by the municipal administration and at national level (see also Political Commitment above). “The Planning Committee (PC) is a powerful agency within the planned economy of China. Its major role has been to make strategic plans for social, economic and infrastructural development, and to allocate financial resources to different sectors of the government.”[15]

The World Bank invested in the expressway that aimed to ease traffic congestion in the city by moving it outside the ring roads. The environmental feasibility of the expressway was analysed through a formal environmental assessment (EA). “In June 2002, the Fourth Railway Exploration and Design Institute in conjunction with Wuhan Academy of Environmental Sciences was retained to conduct an EA for the Project. An EA terms of reference (TOR) was prepared in September 2002 and on December 9, 2002 the TOR was reviewed and approved by an expert panel of the State Environmental Protection Administration.”[16]

An important aspect of the EA was to measure the levels of pollution in the atmosphere. “City wide existing ambient air quality was determined using data from five permanent air quality monitoring stations around the city, run by the municipal monitoring station. Along the project roads and within the impacted areas, a total of 126 facilities are identified during EA field investigation as sensitive or otherwise vulnerable to negative changes in the surrounding environment, such as air pollution, increased noise, construction dust, etc.”[17]


There is a very clear, hierarchical management structure at national, provincial and municipal level. “The municipal government administers and coordinates municipal committees and bureaus. The Construction Committee is responsible for infrastructure and the transport service. The Bureau of Public Security (BPS) is in charge of traffic management within the urban area and may provide data on social activities. The Transport Committee handles regional transport, including long-distance bus, railway, water and air transport. The Planning Committee exerts strategic influence on the transport system. The Statistical Bureau provides information necessary for planning and decision-making.”[18]

Different organisations take on the management of transport development. “The Bureau of Public Utilities (BPU) is mainly concerned with public transport and gas supply. Policies and plans for public transport are made by its managerial office and implemented by corresponding companies. The bureau administers the Bus Company, the Trolley Bus Company, the Taxi Company, the Ferry Company and a research institute. The Office of Light Rail (OLR) is a new agency specifically set up for the planning and management of light rail in Wuhan. Recent years have seen the initiation of mass public passenger transport. The OLR is responsible for initiating, coordinating and managing projects related to light rail development programmes. The Transport Committee (TC) deals with all modes of transport, post and telecommunications. The committee can be viewed as the counterpart of the Construction Committee (CC) in that the TC manages outward transport while the CC confines its extent to built-up districts.”[19]


The measurement of the project is undertaken through surveys with the help of municipal government and other agencies involved in the project:

  • “In 1998 a comprehensive transport survey was carried out. Coordinated by the municipal government, the project involved agencies from public security, public utilities, traffic management, research institutes and universities...
  • “The Institute of Survey and Design (ISD) carries out surveying (including remote sensing) and exploration of engineering geology. It keeps geographically precise data, including topographical maps at different scales, land uses, road networks, aerial photographs and images.”[20]

There are a number of other municipal organisations maintaining metrics:

  • “During the planning process, the Institute of Urban Planning and Design (IUPD) collects data on urban land use, population, economy, geology, history, landscape and so on.
  • “The Bureau of Municipal Engineering (BME) makes and implements plans for road construction and road improvements. Information on every road segment of the city is collected and kept by the bureau, and a yearly statistical report is presented. It holds detailed records on urban road conditions, construction and maintenance. The bureau also has an institute for technical issues.""[21]

The expressway project maintained careful environmental measurement:

  • “During the construction phase, environmental monitoring was conducted in two approaches: daily and routine monitoring consisting of mainly visual observations and limited equipment measurements such as hand-hold noise meters by contractors and construction supervision companies; and periodic monitoring by professionals using standard methods recognized by regulatory authorities.
  • “Monitoring reports are compiled at intervals of once every three to four months, summarising the findings of the monitoring. The reports will be submitted to project proponent as well as relevant agencies and the World Bank.
  • “During the operation phase, noise levels are monitored once a month for the first six months and once every six months thereafter for the first three years of operation.”[22]


The alignment of actors is strong as, for example between the municipal government and national and local agencies. “Several groups of transport agencies play important roles in shaping urban transport in Wuhan... The municipal government administers and coordinates municipal committees and bureaus.”[23]

This alignment applies in specific activities, such as surveys. “In 1998 a comprehensive transport survey was carried out. Coordinated by the municipal government, the project involved agencies from public security, public utilities, traffic management, research institutes and universities.”[24]

The World Bank has cooperated closely with the relevant national organisations in the Ruijin to Ganzhou Expressway. such as the Ministry of Communications Highway Research Institute.

Private companies are engaged in various aspects of the transport project in Wuhan. “Siemens set up an Innovation Centre in a suburb of Wuhan in May 2013. The centre is a branch of Siemens Corporate Technology that works closely with local authorities in order to develop an infrastructure for data services for future mobility management.”[25]


An App that Could Cut Gridlock, Bernd Müller, 11 February 2015, Pictures of the Future, Siemens


Green Transport in Wuhan, June 2014, Sino European Partnership on Low Carbon and Sustainable Urban Development


The People's Republic of China World Bank Loan Jiangxi No. 3 Highway Project (Ruijin to Ganzhou Expressway): Environmental Assessment Summary, November 2005, Jiangxi Provincial Expressways Administration World Bank Loan Project Office ( 665461468238762551/ text/347540rev0pdf.txt)

Urban Transport Planning In China: A Case Study Of Wuhan

( 1874/563/c3.pdf)

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