The transport authority is considering laws to regulate free supermarket shuttle buses.
About 1,000 buses operate on 840 routes with 7,900 stops.
The buses are subject to complaints about heavy emission of black fumes and congesting busy transit bus stations by staying too long to pick up shoppers.
Whether the supermarket shuttles should be considered "public transit buses" to be administered by the city's transport watchdog is unclear, but the transport authority said it is considering limiting their use of the roads.
Chen Jian'an, a member of the city's top advisory body, the Shanghai Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, proposed at a recent session, that the local government ban supermarket shuttles before 9:30 AM and after 4:30 PM to reduce their impact on rush hour.
The transport authority said this week it would draft regulations to rectify the operation of free shuttle buses and restrict their routes and stops.
About 40 percent of supermarket shuttle buses are rented from transit bus companies, 30 percent from travel bus companies and the rest are owned by the supermarkets.
Several major companies that rent buses said the price supermarkets are willing to pay is too low to get the best vehicles.
Zhang Zuoping, an official with the Dazhong Transit Bus Company's Caoxi Branch, said the branch had stopped renting supermarkets.
"As far as I know, the price many supermarkets pay to rent a bus with a driver is about 500 yuan (US$73.21) a day. And the buses often need to make extra runs when business is good," Zhang said.
"It's difficult for a bus company to make a profit at that price."
Fei Tanhao, an official with the Pudong Bashi Transit Bus Company said it also had little interest in providing buses for supermarkets.
Most companies would supply only old buses at the price offered by supermarkets, Fei said.
But dirty exhaust emissions often resulted from poor maintenance as well as the age of the buses, he said.
Supermarkets: New vehicles make for a better journey but problems still remain
Local supermarkets are refurbishing their shuttle buses as well as improving their exhaust emissions. New, air-conditioned vehicles have been introduced recently, but problems still exist.
"I do feel satisfied with the shuttle bus. The most important thing is that it's free of charge," said a passenger surnamed Yang who was taking a bus to Tesco's.
The bus was rented about half a year ago and is in good condition. The driver said the bus was serviced every 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers. "Tesco pays 600 yuan per day for the bus. We hardly earn a profit in summer time because of the gasoline expenditure," he said.
However, the situation has not always been so satisfactory.
A woman passenger told Shanghai Daily that she had experienced a breakdown twice on the road while taking a shuttle bus to Tesco six months ago. "Some buses are so poor and the exhaust pipes often discharge black smoke," she said. "I am glad they have introduced some new buses, which are better, safer and greener."
A driver for the Carrefour supermarket on Wuning Road said many buses were renewed last year. He said emissions were a common problem after five or six years.
Pollution: Stores warned of strict checks on exhaust emissions later this year
Supermarket shuttle buses will undergo strict checks on emissions later this year. The authority wants to control buses with excess pollution within the Inner Ring Road by the end of the year.
A campaign launched by the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau and traffic police will begin after August. Unqualified buses will have their vehicle registration license withdrawn on the spot and owners will be given a two-week temporary license to have vehicles repaired and pass exhaust emission tests.
"We have informed all the supermarkets to conduct effective measures to control over-standard emission of their shuttle buses since an inspection in May detected many problems," said Jiang Xiaofeng of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau's pollution control department.
In the inspection covering 391 shuttle buses from 40 supermarket outlets, officials found 147 buses with excessive exhaust emissions. The 37.6 percent found with excess emissions was higher than that of local buses at 7 percent and other vehicles at 10 percent.
There are 14 supermarkets with 114 outlets within the Inner Ring Road providing some 1,000 free shuttle buses for their customers.
(Shanghai Daily July 22, 2008)