Since moving to a new apartment towards the end of last year I have been commuting to work on Beijing subway line 1 which serves both the CBD and Finance Street, the city’s two prime office submarkets. Combined, these submarkets comprise almost half of Beijing’s total Grade A office stock, and thus, line 1 has long been known for being the busiest in Beijing.
The Beijing subway system has undergone, and continues to undergo, rapid expansion. At the turn of the new millennium, just two lines served Beijing; the east-west line 1 and the circle line 2. With the completions of line 6 and an extension to line 10 in late 2012, 16 subway lines with a total length of approximately 442 km are now reputed to make the Beijing subway system the world’s longest. To put this rapid growth in context, the London Underground has a total track length of 402 km and was 150 years old last Wednesday. All of the six established office submarkets, as well the emerging Olympic Park and Wangjing areas are now accessible by subway and the advantages of locating an office building close to good infrastructure are obvious. Indeed having direct access to public transportation is one of 13 criteria we consider when classifying buildings as Grade A or Grade B.
It was hoped that the recently completed subway lines would relieve some of the pressure from the overcrowded line 1 and I can personally testify that this has been the case. However, it has been reported that line 10 and line 6 both now suffer from serious congestion during busy periods, so what of the future for the Beijing subway system?
Estimates vary as to the final size of the Beijing subway, but by my reckoning the total length should more than double by 2020 as new lines are completed city-wide and as existing lines are extended. However, whether this will alleviate some of the pressure on an already overloaded infrastructure is unclear considering what we know about future plans for office developments. Between now and 2019, we expect over 2 million sqm (based on GFA) of office space to be completed in the CBD with the vast majority of this located in the core extension area. Long-term plans will also see the CBD further extended eastwards to the fourth ring road. Even with an extra subway line serving this submarket (line 14 at Dawanglu), congestion is likely to be amplified to never-seen-before levels and a similar situation can be expected in Finance Street which is expected to double in size in the long-term.
In terms of public transportation, buses are the only other option available to car-less commuters in Beijing. However, government measures aimed at keeping private vehicles to a minimum notwithstanding, traffic congestion remains a serious problem. Despite overcrowding, in terms of speed and reliability the subway remains the best way to traverse the city and I, at least, will continue with my commute on the (marginally) improved line 1.
About the author
James Taylor is Assistant Manager in Jones Lang LaSalle’s research team in China, based in Beijing.