Shanghai’s Superb Subway System Supports a Livable Mega-City

Amazon’s ongoing search for a second headquarters location reacquaints American cities with mass transit’s appeal. Technology companies value access to large numbers of highly educated graduates, who in turn are increasingly drawn to urban, exciting, and functional cities. Shanghai’s high performing transit system supports a livable, affordable metropolis and provides for ample growth, further increasing its economic vitality.

World’s Longest…

The Shanghai subway system has the distinction of being the world’s longest rail transit system and the world’s second busiest, moving over 10 million passengers per weekday (double New York City’s 2016 record despite 25% fewer stations). This newer system (the oldest line opened in 1993) has surpassed a size that took London’s system 100 years. Modern signaling technology supports headways of as low as 90 seconds, outpacing the relatively modern D.C. Metro’s two-minute headways and allowing 33% more trains to run.

And Still Growing.

Ambitious plans call for additional subway coverage, increasing system length to 515 miles by 2020 and 620 miles by 2030, enabled by the agency’s tunneling speed (60 boring machines on one line alone) and easier subsurface conditions. The agency also employs a grid layout, maximizing coverage, adding redundancy, and reducing crowding by spreading out stations. Construction speed does not imply a high cost per mile though –  cheap labor costs and project experience allow construction for a fraction of United States’ systems. Eventually, the Shanghai metro plans to be financially self-sustaining like Hong Kong’s system through increased value capture.

Reliable, Usable, Affordable, and Secure

The Shanghai metro maintains high levels of service and capacity, with 99.82% of trains arriving on-time and satisfaction ratings of 87.4%. Foreigners and first-time users can easily navigate the vast system thanks to automated and bilingual station announcements and payment systems. The highest fare is 15 yuan (~$2.35 USD), with base fares beginning at 3 yuan, before applying frequent user discounts. For security purposes, staff screen passengers’ bags and sliding glass doors preventing passengers from falling onto the tracks. Today, the Shanghai metro easily accommodates a domestic and international workforce while still adding capacity.

Workforce Implications

The Shanghai metro’s expansion will eventually place stations within 600 meters of any central Shanghai location. This coverage, combined with the system’s reliability, usability, and affordability, will allow Shanghai to attract both workers and companies. In a growing city with substantial air quality concerns, Shanghai stands to benefit from this clean transportation. In addition, Shanghai benefits from learning from other transit system’s experiences and current lower wages. As Shanghai advances economically, this investment will continue to provide workforce accessibility.

Hank Wiedefeld

Class of 2018 Tulane MBA