The new policy move, announced following a meeting of the State Council, or Cabinet, here on Saturday, makes it mandatory for downtown areas of major cities to have bus stops every 500 metres.

China on Saturday came out with a new policy to boost usage of public transport, days after the capital, Beijing, put into operation four subway lines — with a combined length of 70 km — whose addition makes the sprawling 16-line Beijing subway system the world’s longest.

The new policy move, announced following a meeting of the State Council, or Cabinet, here on Saturday, makes it mandatory for downtown areas of major cities to have bus stops every 500 metres. It also states that the use of public transport “should account for 60 per cent of motor vehicle use”. The policy includes incentives for operators, exempting all public transport vehicles from consumption tax, fuel and diesel subsidies and favourable electricity usage rates.

The announcement followed the opening of four new subway lines in Beijing earlier this week. The new lines take the total length of the subway network past 442 km — exceeding the around 400 km lengths of the metro systems in Shanghai and London.

Planners here have welcomed the expansion, which, they say, will help the capital better grapple with long-persisting problems of traffic congestion and pollution.

Following a week of operation, the new lines have received positive reviews from commuters, judging from responses given to The Hindu by travellers and also from comments made online. Faster trains, designs of new stations — some resembling airport terminals more than metro stations — and minimal transfer times were highlighted as particular advantages.

Officials said this week they would continue to expand the Beijing subway system. In the next three years, the 16-line network will add one new line every year, with the total length of the system expected to reach 1,000 km by 2020. The city has invested 260 billion Yuan ($ 42 billion) in building its subway system, and has earmarked a further 100 billion Yuan ($16 billion), according to Vice-Mayor Chen Gang.

A report by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport this week said the investments were paying off, with a record 44 per cent of residents relying on public transport — the highest number in any Chinese city. The rail and bus transport systems were carrying 20.6 million passengers daily, the report said.

In recent months, the city also placed limits on vehicle registrations by capping the number issued every month and instituting a lottery system. While the move has been unpopular, it has been welcomed by urban planners and environmentalists.

“Automobiles are a major source of pollution, especially PM 2.5 pollution [particulate matter less than 2.5 microns] in the capital,” leading environmentalist Ma Jun, who heads the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the official China Daily. “To end the tyranny of automobiles in urban areas,” he said, “would not only clear the road, but refresh the air as well”.

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