China has the largest urban public transport sector in the world. In principle, strategic policy is determined by the central government, and passed down through the organs of state for implementation. In recent years that strategy has included giving priority to public transport and reforming the supply arrangements to secure a more commercial and competitive sector.
In practice, responsibility for implementation is completely decentralized, with municipalities having both complete responsibility for financing urban public transport and substantial freedom to interpret central government guidance at the local level. This paper considers the reforms that have already occurred under this regime, the constraints and limitations on the reform process, and the most recent initiatives being undertaken. It shows that a very wide range of systems are being experimented with simultaneously, with so far no sign that central government would intervene in detail or to provide central government finance specifically for the sector.