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Large buses should gain same development opportunity in China

– by Li Xinyan


It is rumored that back in September, Beijing and Shanghai ordered AutoTram Extra Grand, the longest bus (about 30.78m) in the world. The rumor then was denied by various parties, which reiterated that no cities in China have yet ordered this type of bus.

During the National Festival in October, 180 units of 18m LNG buses were put on main roads in Beijing including the famous Chang’an Street. It is obviously that buses are getting longer in China, and discussions on bus length are not ceasing.


Larger buses are the trend 

“It is an inevitable trend that buses in China are getting larger,” said Wang Jian, professor of Chongqing Transportation University. “China has a large population with huge passenger volume. As privately-owned enterprises are gradually been eliminated from public transportation business in China, state-owned enterprises are making efforts for more benefits and profits,” said Wang. “An 18m public bus apparently has higher load efficiency than the 7-8m buses. In addition to developed cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, other big cities in China are using 11-12m buses instead of the original 10m buses,” added the professor.

The 18m public bus owns a maximum passenger capacity of 163 persons, twice as the ordinary pubic buses and can save 17 percent energy per person/100 km.

According to transportation professor Xu Kangming, more cities in China will adopt large public buses in the next three to five years and buses of 18m long will become ordinary.

Large buses with two or three units were popular in 1980’s and 1990’s, said an industry analyst. With few private cars running on the road, large buses used to run together with other road cars without arousing traffic jam. As the high speed growth of private cars in recent years and a comparatively underdeveloped city and road design, traffic gridlock has become a chronic disease of many large cities and the aforementioned large buses disappeared. However, because of its fuel economy and transport efficiency, those large buses now come back on the stage. 

“The 18m Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) buses were quite popular in 2006 and started to cool down later on due to lack of overall organization and plan. But some cities recently started to develop BRT buses suitable for their local conditions. Take Tianjin and Ji’nan as an example. The 12m buses, though with less passenger capacity than that of the 18m and without a closed professional lane, can also provide good service for locals. But regular buses still dominate the bus market in recent years, without many 18m bus orders, said Li Dusheng, brand manager of Zhongtong Bus.


Large public buses boost bus sales

“Beijing has been the largest market of articulated buses in China with many of its buses around a range of 14m. Although large buses are a future trend, the 18m public buses will not be adopted nationally in the next three to five years,” said an industry analyst. The application of large buses is linked to bus manufacturing technologies, passenger volume, road conditions and parking lots and stations with higher demands for drivers, added the analyst. “The regular 12m buses will be applied in a larger range and the demand for larger public buses will still be limited,” said the analyst.

“The market share of large buses has grown nearly 8 percent, from the previous 50.79 percent to 58.13 percent in the first seven months of this year. Sales of 12m series bus increased 34.98 percent to 11,491 units in the first seven months, being one of the only two bus categories that maintained growth during this period,” introduced She Zhenqing, deputy secretary-general of Bus Branch, China Highway Transportation Society. “Take leading bus maker Yutong as an example. The company sold 12,497 large buses during the January to July period, up 25.91 percent year-on-year. Market share of large buses increased from the previous 43.47 percent to 47.32 percent with the share of large public transportation buses jumping from 48.61 percent to 68.14 percent,” said She. “The 12m series public buses also witnessed a 74.2 percent increase in the first seven months,” added She.

According to Li Dusheng from Zhongtong Bus, buses ranging from 10m to 12m take the biggest share of company sales with large increase this year. “Adoption of large buses in big and medium cities boosted bus sales growth of 10m and above,” said Li.

According to another industry analyst, the quickening pace of urbanization has boosted bus demand in urban and rural areas, Urban-rural buses are usually 9-10m buses, and intercity buses are usually 10m or above. 


Technical improvement will not be hindered by policy

“According to relevant regulations, the longest length of an articulated bus is 18m. If the government can raise the upper limit of bus length, longer buses will be produced for more loading requirements,” said Xu.

Some industry analysts believe that longer buses have difficulty turning, and that traffic gridlock will be intensified if such buses broke down on the road. But according to Wang Jian, China’s bus technology can solve the turning problem for even a 25m bus. “Buses of 25m long have been put into operation for years and proved to be a better solution for easing traffic congestions. Some of China’s polices are lagging behind, which has hindered the development of bus technology,” said Wang.

“The road condition requirement for large public transportation buses has been exaggerated in China,” said Xu. Many places in Europe have less developed roads than big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but buses of 25m and 30m still run smoothly there under such road conditions,” Xu added. The State Council recently noted it would make bus development a priority and would look at building bus only lanes. That means that if these large buses broke down, they would not affect other vehicles on the road,” said Xu.

(Rewritten by Jennifer Chen based on author’s article in Commercial Vehicle News)


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