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Researchers urge Chinese government to encourage bikes, buses and rail over cars and commercial vehicles due to emissions and health concerns

Based on the results of their analysis of the potential air quality and health impacts of travel demand in China under business-as-usual and alternative transport scenarios, a team of researchers in China is urging policymakers to encourage the replacement of private cars for short trips with bicycles or public buses and the replacement of commercial vehicles with rail transport.

In their paper, published in the journal Energy Policy, Ling-Yun HE and Lu-Yi QIU, observe that regulatory policies imposed on vehicle usage as well as on car ownership can not solve the growing emissions problem.

China’s passenger-kilometers (pkm) has risen from 1746.67 billion pkm in 2005 to 3009.74 billion pkm in 2014, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China—an increase of 72.3%.

In China in 2013, The transport sector consumed 348.19 million tons of coal equivalent (tce), which resulted in serious air pollution. Emissions of CO, HC, NOx and PM from passenger vehicles were 18.95, 2.04, 18.89 and 0.12 million tons, respectively.

Chinese government has implemented several transport policies to deal with this challenge and to encourage residents to change their travel behaviors to mitigate severe air pollution. For example, in some megacities (e.g. Beijing and Shanghai), regulatory policies imposed on vehicle usage, as well as car ownership. And, in many Chinese cities, financial policies are implemented to reduce the price of public transportation, and to offer the convenient bicycles rent to encourage residents to travel with a clean mode, etc. But some policies don’t achieve the expected goals and some are effective only in a short-term.

For example, after imposing so many tight restrictions, Beijing is still facing severe air quality deterioration, and has repeatedly announced the red warnings many times about air pollution in December 2015 alone. The policies which limit the ownership and usage of personal cars, aim to control the growing numbers of personal vehicles to reduce air pollution; however, they would at the same time suppress the resident’s travel demand, with a high risk of hurting the development of Chinese economy. Therefore, it is necessary to make a reasonable, feasible and applicable policy on alternative travel modes, which can not only reduce harmful emissions and improve the welfare of residents’ health, but also simultaneously satisfy the residents’ travel demand and fulfill the development of economy in the transitional China.

… Before any attempt to make a feasible and applicable relevant policies, however, policy makers must know the total residents’ travel demand and the proportion of different travel modes in light of new policies that aim to reduce harmful emissions from residents’ travel transport and also provide a relatively reliable and comprehensive reference for the world to understand China. So this paper first attempts to comprehensively evaluate the Chinese residents’ travel demand.

—He and Qiu

He and Qiu estimate the overall demand of Chinese residents’ travel transport, and explore the effects on health outcomes and the economic costs by replacing a proportion of transport with cleaner travel modes.

Among their findings:

  • With an estimated population of 1.31 billion in 2050, a sole travel mode-shift towards bicycles would reduce the annual average SO2 concentration by 9.94 − 19.88 μg/m3 and reduce the annual average NO2, PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations by 11.41 - 22.82 μg/m3; 42.59 - 85.18 μg/m3 and 67.47 - 134.95 μg/m3, respectively.

  • Shifting 20% and 30% of private car kilometers traveled (kt) to public buses would reduce SO2, NO2 , PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations by 39.65 − 59.47 μg/m3; 43.30 − 64.95 μg/m3; 169.64 - 254.46 μg/m3 and 268.63 - 402.95 μg/m3, respectively.

  • The largest reduction will occur when increased public buses and cycling are combined, which is estimated to result in 79.41 μg/m3; 88.93 μg/m3; 339.99 μg/m3 and 538.53 μg/m3 reductions of SO2, NO2 , PM2.5.5 and PM10 annual average concentrations.

  • Shifting 5–40% private cars kt to alternative transport could achieve reductions of 15.65 – 125.18 billion tons of CO2 compared with business-as-usual (BAU) as calculated for the year 2050.

  • Changing travel behaviors to alternate modes would prevent 568.96 – 4,515.95 thousand deaths, and save economic costs about 63.14 billion - 501.09 billion Yuan (US9.51 billion - US$75.6 billion).

It is important to research and promote the new energy vehicles to satisfy the residents’ demand and fulfill the development of economy. This study will be important and helpful for policymakers in light of new policies that aim to reduce harmful emissions from residents’ travel transport and also provide a relatively reliable and comprehensive reference for researches. According to our simulation, there are substantial benefits of environment and residents’ health, if we decrease the private cars KT instead of increasing bicycles or public buses for short trips and replace the commercial vehicles with rail transport for long trips. Especially, with the number of reduction of private cars KT increasing, the co-benefits will become more and more notable. The results imply that sustainable travel modes like walking and cycling should be encouraged.

… This research strongly suggests that the Chinese government should begin working on a sustainable transport strategy to encourage residents to change travel behaviors to systematically address the environmental, healthy and economic dimensions of its rapidly growing residents’ travel transport.

—He and Qiu


  • Ling-Yun HE, Lu-Yi QIU (2016) “Transport demand, harmful emissions, environment and health co-benefits in China,” Energy Policy, Volume 97, Pages 267-275 doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2016.07.037



LeEco of China will build a 400,000+ e-car/year factory in partnership with another local e-car manufacturer, for the local market. Export will probably start by 2020/2022.

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