BEIJING, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- A Beijing Public transport operator is experimenting a new shuttle service to help commuters navigate through the city's notorious gridlock.
Beijing Public Transport Holdings (BPT) has launched a "customized shuttle service," promising speedy travel on dedicated lanes.
Routes are tailored to commuters' travel needs, which BPT collects from its official website. Since the operator's first call for customized routes in late August, more than 4,000 people have registered and 2,000 have signed up to ride shuttle buses.
A month after its launch, the service now departs from 12 residential areas around the city's suburbs to bustling downtown business districts during peak hours. BPT will add 12 more routes after the end of the seven-day National Holiday that started on Oct. 1.
Priced at 8 yuan (1.63 U.S. dollars), passengers are guaranteed a seat on a bus that is wifi-enabled and runs straight to the destination on the dedicated lanes. Each bus carries 22 passengers.
"This feels much better than the crowded subway I used to take during peak hours," said a passenger surnamed Chen who boarded the shuttle near his apartment in an eastern suburb to Beijing's Central Business District.
Other Chinese cities have launched or are considering customized shuttle bus services as sprawling urban development has lengthened trips between the home and office.
Besides Beijing, the coastal city of Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province started running two customized routes on Aug. 15. Similar services are to open in Xi'an, capital of northwest Shaanxi Province and Shanghai, the nation's financial hub.
Beijing's customized shuttle service came at a time when the rising number of car ownership is worsening the capital's traffic gridlock and contributing to serious air pollution.
Automobile ownership hit 5.36 million at the end of July and statistics from the municipal environmental authority shows that vehicle exhaust fumes accounts for 22.2 percent of airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter, or PM 2.5, that many blame for the city's smog.
The Beijing government has already introduced curbs to reduce car emissions and ease traffic flow, such as taking vehicles off the roads during weekdays based on license plate numbers and imposing a monthly quota on car license plates through a lottery scheme.
In a plan to improve air quality, Beijing announced a target to cap automobile ownership at six million by 2017. Authorities are likely to tighten the existing license quota to achieve this goal.
The shuttle service thus becomes part of a broader campaign by the municipal government to encourage citizens to park their cars and use public transportation more often. Each year BPT revises and adds new bus routes to accommodate the needs of people living in the suburbs.
Meanwhile, Beijing's subway network is also being extended and has become the choice for many to commute between home and the workplace.
While these means of public transportation eases local travel, passengers complain about crowded buses and subway coaches, as well as punctuality issues. A signal glitch that held up service on one of Beijing's 14 subway lines in mid-September forced many to swarm bus stops, stretching the capital's public transportation.
However, some are skeptical about the new shuttle service's potential to deliver, as few of those who have signed up drive their own car to work.
"If the shuttle service can attract more of those who drive their own car to work, I think it will make a big difference to Beijing's traffic problem," Chen, the passenger, said.