Beijing Car Ban Causes Subway Chaos

The roads in Beijing became less congested but the subways reported a little chaos with signal failures and suspension caused by a woman's probable suicide attempt on Monday, the first working day since the city imposed controls to halve the number of cars on the roads for the Olympic Games.

The city's No. 1 subway line was forced to suspend for 19 minutes after a woman jumped from a platform onto the tracks at about 4:35 p.m. before the afternoon rush hour.

She was pulled from the tracks, but it was not immediately known why she jumped, a Beijing Mass Transit Railway Operation Co. Ltd. (BMTRO) spokesman said.

Subway Line 2, another heavily used line, reported a failure at around 8:20 a.m. during the morning travel peak when trains were halted in the tunnel for more than 10 minutes.

Some entrances to the major Jianguomen transfer station were closed.

A subway official denied a Reuters report that quoted a subway worker at the Fuxingmen station as saying the line was closed for "safety reasons" as "there is a big crush of passengers."

"This was due to the glitches in the subway signal system," said Jia Peng, an official with the BMTRO.

"Services were delayed, but not because there were too many passengers. We've seen even more passengers in the past," Jia said.

Make way for the Games

About two million vehicles are forced off the roads in a scheme that allows private vehicles to be used on alternate days, according to whether their license plates correspond to the odd or even numbered days of the month. The rules, effective from July 20 to Sept. 20, are intended to free up traffic and cut emissions in the city of 3.29 million vehicles.

The restrictions, however, are expected to force an extra 4 million people on to public transport such as buses and subways every day, said the city government.

Some people said a sharp increase in the subway passenger flow had brought inconveniences.

"The subway is much more crowded than it was," said Zhao Xiaohua, a local commuter.

"I could not unfold the newspaper as I normally do in the train," he said.

Delayed subway passengers

Monday morning's suspension of Subway Line 2 delayed thousands of commuters and caused their complaint.

"The train was stopped in the dark tunnel and moving haltingly," said Ji Shaoting, a passenger trapped in the train near the Chongwenmen station.

She said it was very stuffy and a man's voice repeated over the public address system, "The train is moving slowly because of technical problems. Thank you for your understanding."

"The same words were constantly repeated, but we wanted more information and updates about what was going on as we had been trapped for as long as 15 minutes," said Li Xing, a Beijing regular subway commuter.

She said many passengers in the train were complaining and looking at their watches.

"For many times I have been confronted with such problems since April," she said.

A transport official, however, said Monday that subway workers were still adjusting the new signal system and "we hope passengers could understand that."

Workers had to renovate the signal systems of Subway Line 2 only after midnight everyday to ensure the line's operation in the day and there was no time for test runs as in the case of a new line, said Zhou Zhengyu, deputy head of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications.

"We still need time to adjust after the new systems were put into use," said Zhou.

The subway resumed uninterrupted services at around 8:55 a.m..

Less congested roads

Road traffic was generally smooth during the Monday morning peak hour.

Many drivers found themselves had arrived at the destination earlier than usual.

"It used to take me 45 minutes to drive to my company, but today it took only 25 minutes," said Lu Tian, a local resident.

However, brief jams were reported on the second and third ring roads around central Beijing.

In Guang'anmen, on the western Second Ring Road, cars were moving slowly.

"The road is less congested today and the car is at least moving," said a driver surnamed Wang.

Some drivers complained the jams were due to the ban on using the Olympic traffic lanes, which have been reserved for authorized Olympic vehicles.

The lanes were designated from July 20 to Sept. 20 for Olympic vehicles, police cars, fire engines, ambulances, breakdown assistance vehicles, and vehicles with passes to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics.

(Xinhua News Agency July 22, 2008)

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