The Guangzhou BRT opened in February 2010 and was immediately hailed as a breakthrough innovation in BRT planning and design. The Guangzhou BRT has had a major impact on BRT planning worldwide, spurring adoption of 'direct service' operational models in which BRT buses enter and leave the BRT infrastructure, enabling passengers to complete more trips without transferring. The BRT system won major awards and hosted dozens of visiting delegations every year. The Guangzhou BRT inspired other BRT systems in China including in Chengdu, Lanzhou and Yichang, as well as around the world. Regulators in the Communications Commission and related agencies set up an institutional and contracting scheme including multiple BRT operators which is an excellent model for other cities and an alternative to the single state-owned monopoly operator used in BRT systems in other Chinese cities. The Guangzhou BRT had a range of extremely impressive impacts.
Yet since the opening of the BRT in 2010, little in the way of innovation or improvement has occurred. Key issues in the BRT operations and route planning have been indentified but have not yet been addressed.
There have been no high capacity BRT buses added to the fleet since 2010.
While the slow speeds and overcrowding of the Guangzhou BRT system in 2016 can mainly be attributed to the mixed traffic allowed to operate in the BRT lanes and the use of 4-phase intersections, other key reasons for poor performance include the lack of any procurement of 18m BRT buses. There have been no high capacity BRT buses added to the fleet since 2010, when 36 18m BRT buses were brought into operation. (The total BRT bus fleet is around 1,000 buses.) This contrasts with BRT systems in other Chinese cities such as Jinan, Hangzhou, Changzhou, Beijing, Xiamen and Chengdu which all have much lower bus and passenger throughput but well over 100 18m BRT buses.
The Guangzhou BRT stations were designed to accommodate 18m BRT buses and Guangzhou should now have at least several hundred 18m BRT buses in operation. This would significantly reduce crowding and improve BRT speeds.
The Guangzhou Communications Commission in May 2016 issued the Zhongshan Avenue BRT Management Regulation 《中山大道快速公交系统管理办法》 stipulating that in peak hours cars can enter the BRT lanes under the guidance of traffic police, when facing congestion. See this article for a brief overview of this issue.
The B1 BRT line runs from the first to last BRT station and is particularly problematic because less than 10% of trips by BRT passengers are from one BRT station to another. [...] B1 does not match the corridor demand and forces many transfers.
Many problems in BRT operations can be improved or solved through changes in BRT operation including route adjustments, but few such changes have been made in the Guangzhou BRT. One of the most severe problems is that passengers are forced to make too many transfers, to their detriment in terms of inconvenience and longer trip times, and also to the system's detriment in terms of greater BRT fleet requirements and slower operational speeds.
The Guangzhou BRT was planned and designed as a 'direct service' system in which BRT buses would enter and leave the BRT corridor without passengers needing to transfer. As part of the direct service operational design, there were no transfer terminals or interchanges in the Guangzhou BRT. Yet the BRT route planning agencies have tended to prefer an operational approach which more closely matches a traditional trunk and feeder configuration. Under this approach, many routes are terminated at the first BRT station, with passengers required to transfer to other routes to continue their trip.
The B1 BRT line runs from the first to last BRT station and is particularly problematic because less than 10% of trips by BRT passengers are from one BRT station to another (which would be directly served by B1). More than 90% of BRT system trips either start at a station inside the BRT corridor and finish outside, or start outside the corridor and finish inside, or start and finish outside the BRT corridor. B1 does not match the corridor demand and forces many transfers. The situation is made worse by the fact that all 36 18m BRT buses are operated in the B1 route.
BRT route changes proposed by ITDP in 2010 but never acted upon would drastically reduce transfer volumes and greatly improve BRT performance.
The result of this operational approach which is not well-matched to the BRT infrastructure is an extremely high level of transfers at some BRT stations, as shown in the table above. Counts of passengers entering the station and boarding the buses showed very high transfer volumes at many BRT stations. At Tiyu Zhongxin station during the morning peak, for example, on the main citybound platform in the morning peak more than 90% of passenger boardings are from passengers who are transferring from another BRT bus. System-wide, 30% of the boarding and alighting events during the morning peak involves transferring passengers.
The solution to the excessive transfers is to make regular BRT route adjustments to reduce transfers, improve BRT speeds, and reduce BRT fleet requirements and hence operational costs. In any BRT system it is necessary to monitor operations in order to identify and rectify problems. Regular adjustments should be made, but this has generally not been done in Guangzhou. The transfer problems have persisted for more than six years of BRT operation with no remedial action. Several route adjustments are needed, with impacts of changes monitored, and then further adjustments made.
BRT route changes proposed by ITDP and GMEDRI in 2010 but not acted upon would reduce transfer volumes and improve BRT performance. As shown below, route B1 currently goes from the first to last BRT station. Extending route B30 beyond the current end point of B1 would dramatically reduce transfer volumes, improve system speeds, and reduce BRT fleet requirements. The change should be made immediately, with tens of thousands of passengers benefiting each day.
The change should be made immediately, with tens of thousands of passengers benefiting each day.
The test of this single route change results in a new equilibrium of frequency for each route according to its demand. Route B1 is now only used for direct trips without transfers, and its demand drastically drops from 8,000 boardings/hr to 2,500 boardings/hr. There is a global BRT fleet reduction of 24 buses, reducing BRT operating costs. There is a reduction of 3,500 transfers/hour ~= 7,000 seconds in station saturation or more than 2% improvement to overall BRT operation. Extending route B1 to reduce transfers in this way only generates benefits. There are no disadvantages.
Of course this is just one single route modification. Many more adjustments should be made, on a regular basis. A detailed analysis of transfers needs to be performed to propose other similar adjustments, reducing transfers to the minimum.
The Guangzhou BRT was designed with overtaking lanes, enabling the implementation of express routes. Proposals for express routes during the planning in 2009 and early operation in 2010 were not acted upon. Express services provide many advantages:
Following are two examples of express routes based on route B4 and B21. For route B4, the same four services are changed. A service currently running outside the BRT corridor along the Guangyuan Expressway is included in the BRT corridor, with just two stops at BRT stations. One service remains unchanged, stopping at each station. The two other services operate at specific stops according to the passengers' origin-destination profile of the line. For route B21, the route is split into two services with alternating stops.
BRT buses are severely overcrowded during peak and sometimes even off-peak hours.
One of the basic tasks of any BRT or public transport regulatory agency is to monitor the service quality provided by the system's operators and to take remedial action accordingly. Although the stations are excellently maintained and managed, the Guangzhou BRT buses are often severely overcrowded during peak and sometimes even off-peak hours. Problems of slow BRT operational speeds and excessive transfer volumes have not been addressed.
During the morning peak hour in late July 2016 the average citybound BRT bus occupancy was 87 passengers. This is a severe level of overcrowding considering nearly all of the buses used in the BRT are 12m buses, and compares to an average occupancy of 78 passengers per bus in surveys in 2014. On average there are now more than 50 standing passengers per bus at the highest demand locations.
The overcrowding has negative implications for passenger comfort but also for system performance. It can take up to 10 seconds or more for a single passenger to exit a BRT bus, and waiting passengers cannot squeeze into the BRT buses at many stations. This greatly increases delays at stations and degrades the operational speed of BRT buses. Slow boarding and alighting at stations also often leads to severe peak hour bus queuing delays.
The Communications Commission should monitor bus occupancy and set a policy limit on acceptable levels of crowding, taking action to improve the situation when the policy limits are exceeded. The BRT system is still far below the capacity limits imposed by the design. A policy limit on permissible crowding at different times of the day may prevent the BRT management company and regulators' tendency of reducing operational bus-kilometers, which is the basis of payment for the BRT operators, which leads to overcrowding even during off-peak hours.
At Gangding BRT station a pedestrian bridge designed as a temporary structure with a one year lifespan is still operating more than six years later.
At Gangding BRT station a pedestrian bridge designed as a temporary structure with a one year lifespan is still operating more than six years later. The bridge is permanently crowded, unprotected from the weather, and generally unpleasant and inconvenient to its tens of thousands of daily users. At the other end of Ganging station, which is possibly the largest non-terminal BRT station in the world in terms of daily passenger boardings, tens of thousands of passengers are forced to walk 100m from the BRT bridge to the station platform without any shade or weather protection.
Meanwhile at Shipaqiao BRT station passengers are forced to walk 200m from the Tiyu Donglu intersection in order to access the station, also with no shade or weather protection. There has been no improvement to this situation since the BRT system opened in February 2010 despite tens of thousands of BRT passengers being affected every day.
All of the BRT operational problems identified in this brief article are fixable.
All of the BRT operational problems identified in this brief article are fixable. The BRT station design is fundamentally sound and with improved management and operation the BRT system can provide an excellent service to passengers and benefit to the city. In order for this to be achieved, though, system regulators need to improve the planning and management of the Guangzhou BRT.
Article by Karl Fjellstrom, Far East Mobility. Karl Fjellstrom was the lead international expert during the planning and design of the Guangzhou BRT system, and in 2011 received the Guangzhou Friendship Award, which is the highest honour granted by the Guangzhou City Government to foreign experts, in recognition of his role in the Guangzhou BRT project.