Every weekday morning, hordes of people, sometimes in their hundreds, converge on the bus terminus in Yanjiao, about 35 kilometers east of Beijing.
Although the bus operator has increased the frequency of the Beijing route, people still wait in line at least half an hour for a seat. Many are in their sixties and seventies.
Do they have to go to Beijing to work?
The answer lies just down the road where younger people, most of them half-asleep, take up places in the queue held for them by their elders. They do it religiously 30 minutes out of their first waking hours each weekday in order to ensure comfort for their younger family members for the long ride out.
But those who do not live close enough to the bus terminus have no such luxury.
By the time the bus gets to the third stop, there’s hardly any room for anyone to board, let alone sit, according to Southern Weekend.
Like many of the world’s mega cities, Beijing has sizable commuter towns and Yanjiao is just one of them.
But what is different is that Yanjiao is not under Beijing’s jurisdiction. The town is part of neighboring Hebei province, although it is just 35 kilometers east of Tiananmen Square.
Beijing does not consider it as a satellite city either.
Seven years ago, Yanjiao was a small, quiet border town. But when Beijing banned subdivided apartments, basement rental flats and group leases, it drove many non-local working-class residents from the city. They included college graduates and job seekers already stretched by exorbitant home prices and rentals.
With its proximity to Beijing, coupled with lower rent and more affordable housing prices — 9,000 yuan (US$1,444) to 10,000 yuan per square meter compared with Beijing’s 35,000 yuan per s.qm. — Yanjiao became inundated with new arrivals.
Yanjiao has witnessed an influx of about 300,000 people in the past five years alone. Gross domestic product has soared three times during the period. Developers rushed homes to meet demand, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Today, Yanjiao has some of Hebei’s largest residential projects. One called Yanjiao Uptown houses 70,000 residents. A shopping mall, touted as Asia’s largest, will soon rise. This year, 10 projects will be completed, adding capacity for 80,000 residents.
Yanjiao’s infrastructure and public services, originally meant for 60,000, can’t keep pace.
Municipal waste has grown by 200,000 cubic meters in the past two years but a government proposal to build an incinerator has been rejected by most of the residents.
Maximum daily water supply is 72,000 tons but demand is 95,000 tons. The town’s heating supply can serve a combined floor area of 2.8 million sq.m. at the most, but years of construction have added 13 million sq.m to the shortfall.
And lack of substations is causing frequent power supply disruptions, even blackouts.
There are other problems, too. Nowadays, a policeman has to patrol residential quarters of up to 20,000 households on average every day.
That should make the commute to Beijing a relatively mundane issue but it is not.
Many people spend three to four hours going to work and returning home not because of the distance but due to poor transport infrastructure, inadequate bus services and congestion on the only four-lane expressway to Beijing.
Yanjiao officials have been trying to get Beijing to help them address the problem, but the mandarins in the capital, who outrank them in the political pecking order, are not the easiest people to approach.
In many instances, they have been turned away.
Beijing authorities are facing increased criticism — and pressure — after Shanghai last year extended its metro network to Kunshan, a neighboring county in Jiangsu province, to better serve commuters there.
Last month, Beijing’s deputy mayor was quoted as saying that the city’s subway Line 6 will begin to serve Yanjiao but did not mention when.
So, the wait continues.
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