With a new integrated circuit (IC) card system put into operation yesterday, Beijing finally started to catch up with many other Chinese cities in providing an up-to-date public transportation ticketing system.
As the 2008 Olympic Games host city, Beijing must surely have more than a smart bus card system to materialize its commitments to stage a high-tech international event.
However, for numerous residents in Beijing, such an automatic fare collection system indeed means concrete improvement in their daily life. By making ticketing a little bit easy for every one, the new system can save time for passengers while raising the efficiency of the public transportation system.
The adoption of similar electronic ticketing systems has proved successful and popular in a number of domestic cities.
Yet, the municipal administrator of public transportation in Beijing should not suppose that all the benefits of the new bus cards can be delivered automatically.
Advanced technology is only part of what is needed to improve the efficiency of public service.
The administrator should work hard and carefully overcome all the local difficulties that have long delayed the introduction of smart bus cards.
On the one hand, Beijing's commuters are not familiar with these smart public transportation cards. As a result, and as it actually happened, some passengers ignored the requirement to wait in line and get on and off the bus from specific gates, causing chaos at bus stations.
One the other hand, many bus stations are not designed to separate passengers into different lines. And when passengers wait in a crowd, buses used to squeeze into stops in a disorderly way.
The heavy traffic during rush hour partially explains why buses have to enter and leave stations in a hurry.
Requiring buses to queue when making their stops is a needed step to match lines passengers must make to get on different buses they want to take.
But in absence of related measures to improve traffic on the road, the long line of buses waiting to enter stops creates more traffic jams.
Fortunately, the administrator has made preparations for many of these problems.
While thousands of transportation aids have been sent to keep passengers waiting in lines, a number of key bus stations have been equipped with time-saving mobile ticketing machine to allow passengers to swipe cards before boarding. And the bus companies have also sent more buses on the road to assure adequate communications.
Beijing commuters' initial experiences with smart bus cards might not be as sweet as those in Shanghai or Hong Kong, but the municipal transportation administrator's effort is still of great help to promote the new bus cards.
To turn the public transportation system into a convenient and efficient choice for the public, a comprehensive upgrade of Beijing's traffic administration should follow up soon.
(China Daily May 11, 2006)