November 7, 2014


It’s Not Technical, It’s Organizational: Understanding BRT Shortcomings in China


1:40 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.


1605 Tilia, Room 1103, West Village


Rising personal car use and rapid urbanization have made Bus Rapid Transit a popular mass transit option for many Chinese cities. With China’s long history of public transit use and operation, BRT could be seen as another phase in its public transit evolution with few implementation problems. Yet, multiple studies have found most Chinese BRT systems suffer from slow speeds, low capacity, and limited networks. These are often assumed to be technical issues and thus technical solutions are prescribed, such as improving signal timing, better siting of corridors, and expanding networks. In examining the knowledge transfer process in cities in China, I discovered these issues had more to do with organizations than technical capacity. I conducted a comparative case study of two Chinese provincial capitals–Jinan, Shandong and Kunming, Yunnan. Methods included in-depth interviews, participant observation, site visits and document analysis. This presentation illustrates (1) how these “technical” problems are interorganizational conflicts between agencies and (2) ways to address these conflicts to support better BRT planning.

Biographical Sketch

Alainna Thomas is currently a postdoctoral scholar working at the Institute of Transportation Studies’ National Center for Sustainable Transportation and the China Center for Energy and Transportation. She has lived (on and off) and worked in China for over 15 years. Her expertise is on Chinese planning organizations and their learning and implementation processes as they seek to adopt and adapt western planning policies such as bus rapid transit or transit-oriented development to their cities. She has carried out research in Chinese in mega-cities such as Beijing and Shanghai and second-tier cities such as Chengdu, Jinan, and Kunming. Her research has been supported by the University of California’s Transportation Center (UCTC), National Security Education Program (NSEP), the Center for Chinese Studies, and the Women’s Transportation Seminar. She did post-baccalaureate work at the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies. Thomas holds degrees from the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of California, Berkeley.

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