German technology is no match for pace of life in Beijing
City's subway commuters go too fast for ticket machines to handle
European-made equipment which collects fares on the Beijing subway may be advanced, but is proving seemingly incapable of coping with Chinese passengers in a hurry.
Several times a year, engineers have had to fly in from Germany to deal with various operational glitches, in particular the jamming up of the system, according to a manager with the company.
"Our technical experts were puzzled why the machines, which have worked perfectly in Europe for years, failed in China all the time," he said, declining to be named due to business sensitivities. "They were shocked by what they found."
In Europe, passengers keep a certain distance from each other and feed their tickets into the machine only after the person in front has passed through.
But in China, impatient passengers follow closely behind each other and often insert their ticket before the gate opens for the person in front.
"Our German engineers assumed there would be two to three seconds between two tickets, but in China even half a second seems too long," he said.
The problem has proved tough to fix. Engineers not only needed to rewrite software code, but also redesign parts. So far the foreign technicians have not come up with an effective solution to counter the impatience of mainland passengers.
As a result, in Beijing and many other Chinese cities, fare-collection equipment is often manned by subway employees who constantly remind passengers to back off or, when the machines fail, collect fares by hand.
Public transport is one of the many sectors in China where foreign technology has stumbled. At the same time, pressure on multinationals competing in China has increased as local companies have sensed an opportunity to find products with a better fit for the local market.
Zhang Yi, general sales manager with the Cheng Li Special Automobile Company, one of the largest Chinese producers of city maintenance vehicles, said that until recently mainland officials preferred buying overseas technology and brands.
"Foreign companies have been making these vehicles for decades. There is no denying that their technology is more advanced in some areas," Zhang said. "And some officials felt that a fancy-looking street sweeper from a developed country would improve the city's image."
But in the past five or six years, most Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have given up on foreign maintenance equipment.
"Chinese streets are often littered with garbage that is much greater in size and quantity than in Europe or America," Zhang said. "This significantly shortens the lifespan of foreign sweepers, that is if they don't choke to death right away."
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