Understanding China's metro development: A comparative regional analysis

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - subway/metro, place - asia, land use - planning, policy - equity


Metro development, China, economic, population


Economic growth and infrastructure development in China has appeared to be regionally imbalanced for many years during the post-reform period since 1978. The significant differences in transport infrastructure and facilities among various regions in China can be depicted as “stairs” descending gradually from the higher eastern coastal region to the lower west of China. Metro systems have been developed in both coastal and inland provinces, and they are now present in the four different economic regions of China. The findings in this paper show that the distribution of metro systems from the perspective of spatial and regional development in China tends to be mixed and diverse. Considering the length, numbers of lines and stations, there is a consistent pattern in the medians of the datasets for different regions, with no significant differences in the levels of metro development between coastal provinces and inland provinces, and among the four economic regions. However, the Eastern Region not only has the largest number of cities with extensive metro systems; it also has many prefecture-level cities and non-provincial capital cities with developed metro systems. The analysis also shows that economic and population factors are positively and significantly correlated with the scale of metro development in both coastal and inland regions, and these factors have stronger influence on the scale of metro systems in cities in the inland region compared with cities in the coastal region. In summary, the evidence suggests that the spatial and regional layouts of metro development in China are influenced by economic, population, and institutional and policy factors; the latter having an important role to play in reducing regional imbalances in metro infrastructure development.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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