Alongside hotpot, tea houses, and mahjong players, one of Chengdu's key features is the swarms of people appearing at every bus stop during rush hour. Waiting passengers flood out onto the streets, disrupting the flow of traffic. Amidst the pushing and shoving to get on the bus, personal belongings are stolen, arguments break out, and general mayhem ensues.
However, one notable exception is the stop for bus No. 20 on Hongxing Lu, at the mouth of the Chunxi Lu pedestrian street. For reasons that seem mysterious to the average passerby, passengers waiting for the No. 20 bus have neatly and quietly queued in a long, snaking line for the bus since late 2003.
The initiative was the brainchild of bus No. 20 dispatcher Lan Xuedong (蓝学东), a now-legendary figure in Chengdu known as the "sister of public-transportation" (公交妹妹).
Sohu reported on the phenomenon in 2007 (our translation):
On December 17, 2003, amidst a crowd waiting to get on the bus, an 80-year-old man was pushed under the wheel of the bus. Fortunately, he sustained no injuries, but the very next day, two female students from the Chengdu University of Technology lost their mobile phones to a pickpocket. This led bus No. 20 dispatcher Lan Xuedong to think: Could a queue for the bus prevent these safety and security problems? Would the passengers cooperate? After talking over her idea with two other dispatchers, she had their support. December 19, 2003 was the first day the No. 20 bus Hongxing Lu Pedestrian Street North bus stop queue was implemented. One young man tried to push his way on to the bus. When Lan Xuedong forced him to line up, he yelled, "Are you nuts!?" That young man was Sun Lei, and these days, he has taken the initiative to encourage others to line up for the bus. The dispatchers working with Lan Xuedong say that in three years they've received no small amount of verbal abuse. Last summer, four young men hit Lan Xuedong over the head with their frozen water bottles.
"They used a lot of force to hit me, and shortly thereafter a huge bump appeared on the left side of my forehead. It hurt. I saw stars. After the bus left, I sat by myself on the sidewalk and cried."
But with the support of the Chengdu Blue Star Public Transport Group (成都市公交集团东星公司), which installed signs instructing passengers to line up at all stops, and despite the physical and emotional trauma Lan Xuedong and her coworkers endured (to comfort each other, they even come up with a "most-wronged award"), the initiative proved successful: the "Bus No. 20 phenomenon" ("20路现象") is now reportedly known countrywide as a symbol of orderliness and civilization.
And now, the Tianfu Square West bus stop is trying to implement its own bus No. 20 phenomenon. This time, the queue is for bus No. 118. From 7:30 to 9:30 (peak traffic times) every morning, there will be 10 "queuing assistants" to prod passengers into line.
Most passengers at the station were willing to line up for the bus, they said, and as long as other people also follow suit, they won't jump the queue.
If the trial succeeds in Tianfu Square West station, it would appear the time is ripe for promoting "civilized" queuing behavior in Chengdu, an idea long discussed by Chengdu media and civilians.
In 2008, the Tianfu Morning Post (天府早报), Chengdu Mobile Transport TV, and Tencent (the makers of popular online-chat software QQ) called for a "Everybody Discuss Civilized Public Transport" (文明公交大家谈) forum, asking the public to give their opinions on what aspects of public-transportation behavior needs to change.
The Morning Post also proposed a "promote queuing day" on the 11th of every month.
"To see the passengers lining up voluntarily everywhere in Chengdu is a dream that my coworkers and I have," said Lan Xuedong.
With research by Miya Yang