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October 3rd, 2008

Back in the city, dammit.

And I’m in the mood for a little rant. Sorry.

See, although I’m generally pretty happy with the performance of the Bafangda bus company, particularly that section of it that runs the 919s to Badaling and Yanqing, there’s one really big, glaring problem: Transport within Yanqing County.

Cos most of the bus routes within Yanqing County are also run by Bafangda- at least, so far as I have seen.

It used to be simple: Ride the 919 right to the end of the line at Yanqing Bus Station, find the next 920 to be heading out to the village, and wait for that to leave (they run every half hour). then the 920 route was changed, meaning we had to get off at Dongguan or Nancaiyuan to change to the 920- Nancaiyuan if you want a hope of getting a seat, Dongguan if you have business in the county town to be done before heading out to the village. That’s no big deal, just get off the bus earlier. That’s the way it is today, and we normally change buses at Nancaiyuan.

And of course, at Nancaiyuan there are plenty of 黑车 (hēichē- literally “black cars”, i.e. illegal taxis) for hire should you not want to risk being crushed to a bloody pulp on the 920. At Dongguan there are the same heiche and also 班车 (bānchē- tricycles with a flat bed covered in blankets you can pile your stuff and your people on, the most common and useful form of transport within the county town, works taxi-style, but for a fraction of the cost, provided you don’t mind being pedalled around by some old guy who looks like he should be considering retirement).

So getting out to the village has never been much hassle. Getting back is getting to be more and more troublesome.

It used to be that there were plenty of 面的 (miàndì- those tiny vans, y’know, van-shaped but no bigger than a VW Jetta- and that’s the bigger ones) plying the highway. They could be hired as a taxi, but they would also often cruise the highway picking up passengers bus-style. Considering the 920s run every half hour, we would more often than not catch a miandi to head back into the county town- and whether you hire it taxi-style or get a seat in one plying the bus route, you tell the driver your destination in the county town and you’ll get dropped right there. Far more convenient than the bus, if you don’t mind the lack of space and safety. But as time has worn on there’ve been fewer and fewer miandi on the roads.

Well, I don’t know, I haven’t actually been into the county town proper for ages. We’ve been getting off at Nancaiyuan, on the southern outskirts- indeed, on the other side of the Gui River from the town proper- almost every time. So far as I can remember, the last time I was in the county town proper- apart from the banche ride from the nearest 920 stop to the bus station on the way back into Beijing, of course- was Spring Festival. There still seemed to be enough miandi around, but not as many as back in their heyday. It used to be that along the northern side of the square at Dongguan were a crowd of miandi waiting for passengers heading in the Kangzhuang direction, then further up the road around the old Central Market were those heading our direction, and you could hardly step outside anywhere between Dongguan, the bus station and Central Market without constant offers of miandi rides. Yeah, I’m not sure what the situation is in that area these days, but the bus station area seems a lot quieter. Still heiche drivers there offering rides into Beijing, though- yeah, like they can compete with the buses.

Then on our way out to the village, on seeing the crowds waiting for our bus at the first stop out of the station, we allowed ourselves to be talked into hiring a heiche. A Chery QQ as it happens, a car I have a particular thoroughly irrational loathing for. I mean, it’s a good car and a great design for inner city motoring, it was certainly spacious and comfortable inside and every aspect of the vehicle I could see and sense displayed the decent quality I’ve come to expect from Chery, but something about the QQ just really bugs me. Anyways, the driver (yeah, I know, I could be a journalist with this one, quoting a taxi driver) complained about the worsening transport situation in Yanqing, saying that fewer and fewer people were taking miandi (and presumably heiche) now that the buses have the Yikatong swipe card system, and yet there aren’t any more buses than previously.

And here is precisely what I want to rant about: The 920s are still going every half hour, even though they’re packed to the gunnels by the second stop at Dongguan, and make a sardine can look postively spacious by comparison as they leave the county town. And the buses are only getting more and more crowded as there are fewer and fewer miandi plying the highway. And yet Bafangda is still running the old buses only every half hour.

I would’ve thought they could easily put on a bus every fifteen minutes, still have packed buses and make a tidy profit. Every ten minutes would probably be good. But no, even as public transport in Beijing and from Beijing to the outer suburbs (particularly Beijing to Yanqing) is improving by leaps and bounds every day, the transport situation in Yanqing is sliding slowly backwards.

This is really frustrating for two reasons:

  1. If most urban Chinese can’t really afford cars, then most rural Chinese sure as shit can’t afford anything more technological than a bicycle.
  2. Yanqing has a wealth of tourism resources! Surely improving the public transport situation is only going to make those toursim resources more easily accessible to the general public?

Alright, I’m done.

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