Metro line model of regional integration
Published: Oct 17, 2013 07:03 PM Updated: Oct 17, 2013 07:21 PM
Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Shanghai metro made history on Wednesday when the extension of Line 11 connecting the city with neighboring Jiangsu Province began trial operation. The first inter-provincial metro line in China has a total length of 72 kilometers, making it the country's longest metro line.

It takes 50 minutes from Jiangsu's Huaqiao Station in the city of Kunshan to reach downtown Shanghai's Xujiahui Station and costs just 7 yuan ($1.15).

Kunshan is often referred to as Shanghai's back garden. Many overseas enterprises, especially Taiwanese companies, register the company in Shanghai but locate the manufacturing base in Kunshan, where business costs, especially real estate and labor, are significantly cheaper. But on the other hand, Shanghai has an irreplaceable advantage as a location for a company's headquarters. So it's economically sensible that companies separate their manufacturing from other departments in different sites.

The Kunshan government has proved smart in attracting foreign investment by introducing preferential policies, serving and taking advantage of its status as Shanghai's "back garden."

Since the blueprint of the metro line was announced, real estate developments along the line have targeted both Shanghai and Jiangsu residents to purchase property. So far it seems like a win-win situation for both the real estate sector and people whose lives and business are closely tied to the area.

For commuters shuttling between Shanghai and Kunshan, the metro line can help save a lot of time and energy. For both companies and individuals who are still hesitant about whether to develop in Kunshan, the new line may help them make a final decision. For local administers of the three new stops on the route, the extended metro lines should inspire them to think about how to make the most of this opportunity to better develop the area under their jurisdiction.

In a broader sense, it's a good example of urbanization, although residents in Kunshan may disagree with labeling it part of suburban Shanghai. Kunshan has developed very well in the past decades and serves as a satellite city of metropolitan Shanghai.

At the same time, I'd argue that psychological effects play an even more significant role. There are always conflicts among people of neighboring regions, especially two competitive places that share many similarities. To people from neighboring Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, Shanghainese sometimes display an air of elitism. The subtle feeling may change as the metro trains shuttle residents in both directions.

Shanghai people can now enjoy the peace of a countryside lifestyle if they are tired of urban congestion and other pressures at a lower cost. Or they can enjoy big apartments or houses in Jiangsu, which they can't afford in Shanghai. With the newly opened metro service, they may still feel at home in Jiangsu.

Jiangsu people, especially the young professional class, needn't feel the pressure to buy a flat in Shanghai. On weekdays they can earn a higher salary and take advantage of more opportunities in Shanghai, but at night and on weekends they can live comfortably in their hometown in Jiangsu. Some of them may even enjoy a quicker commute than Shanghainese colleagues who must trek from one side of the city to the other.

When the high-speed trains connecting Shanghai with Hangzhou, Nanjing, Beijing and other major cities began operation, there was also an overwhelmingly positive response praising the new services. Let's hope the metro line expansion is also a pioneering event.

The metro's inter-provincial breakthrough is a testament to Shanghai's openness. There is no room for local protectionism. The Yangtze River Delta region can't be an empty concept. Much regional cooperation can be achieved with the development of more infrastructure projects. We hope there are more inter-provincial metro systems to benefit commuters and companies in the region.

However, one aspect of the metro extension that has stirred public debate is the mobile phone roaming fee on the line.

China's mobile operators have long been criticized for running a monopoly and a high pricing system, especially for charging costly roaming fees.

The user of a Shanghai-registered mobile phone number has to pay 0.60 yuan per minute for outgoing phone calls and 0.40 yuan per minute for incoming calls when in Jiangsu territory and vice versa, though you can have a better price if you apply for a customized package beforehand.

Compared with the total metro ticket price of 9 yuan for 72 kilometers and 70 minutes, the 0.60 and 0.40 yuan per minute fees seem absurdly high. The telecommunications companies can learn from the metro authorities to introduce better policies that reflect the mobility of modern Chinese society.

The metro line extension is not only a geographic breakthrough between two administrative districts. It offers an example for many parties to consider developing more potential opportunities and tackling existing barriers.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.