9/8. Imagine this. It’s a steamy, smoggy, hot August night and there are thousands of people – both locals and foreigners - stranded on the Beijing city streets. The famous Beijing ring roads are chock-a-block with pedestrians, grumpy to get home after a late night at the opening ceremony. Many desperately hailing cabs but many are trying the subway or making the long march home on foot.
The Airport Economist is in Beijing (naturally enough as there’s a major sporting event on) and is trying his luck too. But he is fortunately assisted by a friend, a fluent Mandarin speaking Australian (no not Kevin Rudd) who knows his way around Beijing and he gets safely home to his hotel in the back of a sheep-skin seated van (all it lacked was the purple fluffy dice on the mirror).
So this begs the question - why can’t the airport economist get a taxi in Beijing?
There are several reasons but there are three main ones.
Firstly, in order to keep emissions and traffic under control for the Olympics, the Chinese authorities have restricted traffic by private vehicles. They have split up the calendar so some cars can be driven on odd numbered days according to their licence plate number and the residual get the even numbered days. This means that the Beijing middle class who normally drive, don’t bring their cars in (they can’t) creating extra demand for taxis on top of demand from foreign visitors who are here for the Olympics.
Secondly, taxis are relatively cheap – especially for a foreigner (you can go anywhere in central Beijing for about 10 Reminbi or A$1.65) – and even for some well-heeled Beijingers. So naturally, they are popular and this too creates excess demand.
Thirdly, if we take a walk on the supply side, many taxis have been reserved for Olympic venues. Accordingly, people elsewhere in the city are losing out on the taxis which are now at the specially built venues.
So next time you have to wait 20 minutes for a taxi on a drunken Friday night in Sydney or any other Australian capital city, just imagine how it feels hanging around for 2 hours or more in Beijing during the Olympics.
However, it could be a lot worse. To help with the traffic flows, China has enlisted the help of a number of Australia companies to help with traffic-flow, carbon emissions, and logistics for getting around. For example SmartTrans is helping with GPS tracking technology, GHD is helping with Olympic transport system design and Linfox is a logistics consultant. Indeed there seems to be Australian involvement all over Beijing from the Water cube stadium and the Olympic Village (designed by PTW), the lighting in the Olympic venues and hotels (installed by Dynalite) and the smoke-alarm systems (by Xtralis).
Even the torch is made of materials from Bluescope and the medals are made ores from BHP Billiton. There are many individual Australians also playing a big role at the games themselves. For example, Michelle Timms is a coach with the China women’s basketball teams, SOCOG guru Sand Hollway is help BOCOG and the IOC and David Churches, Senior adviser with the Australian International Sports Events Secretariat is also heavily involved in preparation and logistics here. So if ‘Timmsy’ can help the Chinese basketballers, Sandy Hollway can help BOCOG, then it makes sense for Lindsay Fox to help the Beijing logistics people.
But don’t get me wrong – it’s all worth it. The opening ceremony was spectacular and there’s tremendous excitement all over China. A bit of taxi trouble is a small price to pay for the staging of a potentially wonderful Olympics so let’s hope that the Australian expertise will enable Beijing to put on the ‘best games ever’ (or at least since Sydney!).
7/8. As ‘The Airport Economist’ I get around a bit and am actually contributing this commentary from Beijing, a city in the midst of the frenzy of the 2008 Olympic Games.
As I move around a noisy, smoggy but very excited city, I notice Australia everywhere. Of course, there are the highly visible symbols of Australia, such the water cube designed by Australian architects PTW.
Their story is well known. PTW won the Beijing contract after Austrade entered them in a Beijing Olympics competition – bidding for design for the main arenas and the Olympic Village - on the back of their award winning design at for the Aquatic Centre Homebush at the Sydney Games in 2000. PTW CEO John Bilmon and his China representative, John Pauline, have been effectively ambassadors for Australian design everywhere here and have developed high profiles in general.
In fact, Australian designers and architects in general have done very well, with at least 6 major Olympic arenas being Australian-designed and many Australians acting as consultants to those designed locally by their Chinese counterparts. Outside Beijing too, Australian architects such as Bligh Voller Nield, Cox Architects, URS, and Allen Jack + Cottier, Tim Court & Co have designed the sailing base in Qiangdao, the stadium in Tianjin and the Hong Kong Equestrian Centre.
Australia has also made a major contribution to high profile symbols of the Games. For example BHP Billiton has provided the ores in the medals, Bluescope has provided materials for the Olympic Torch, and the Torch relay was organised by Australian company, Maxxam International, led by their energetic managing director Di Henry.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As well as the very visible symbols of Australia’s contribution to this Olympic Games, behind the scenes, Australian exporters – large and small – have been helping China to put on the greatest show on earth. For example, the lighting control systems in the hotels and the Olympic venues have been manufactured by Sydney company Dynalite led by the irrepressible Jimmy Du, the smoke alarm systems by Xtralis, the artificial turf in the hockey field is engineered by Sports Technology International and Argus has provided the mobile phone antenna’s in another Olympic landmark, the ‘bird’s nest’ stadium.
Getting around the host city is always difficult at Olympic time. However, the Beijing Olympic organisers were keen to learn from the Sydney 2000 team in terms of logistics. As a result, GHD has been in charge of the Beijing transport design and contract reviews on the back of their success in Sydney, the Middle East and all over the globe. Similarly, another Australian company SmartTrans has provided GPS tracking technology to optimise travel routes around Beijing to the different Olympic venues and Linfox has acted as a logistics adviser to BOCOG.
The logistics operations stemmed from Chinese authorities' desire to keep down pollution levels and make Beijing a ‘green’ games just like Sydney. In order to assist Beijing meet its environmental aspirations, Melbourne company Biograde is helping with plastics recycling. Biograde is one of a number of ‘green’ exporters coming from Australia to China to help in areas of clean energy, recycling, and other sectors that China needs to boost its environmental capability. Companies like Roaring 40s and education institutions like UNSW are part of the clean energy mission led by Trade Minister Simon Crean.
Do you remember the very successful volunteer concept at Sydney 2000? As an example of ‘knowledge exports’ TAFE Global has been Beijing in the lead-up to help China develop its own volunteer support for the Games, and believe me, the Beijing Olympic volunteers are there in force from the moment you step of the plane in Beijing’s brand new space age international airport. In fact, the volunteers are symbolic of all the service exports provided by Australia to China with Telstra providing telecommunications strategy advice, Macquarie Bank providing financial services advice, Great Big Events and Major Event Planning helping with event management and sports marketing.
Of course, many individual Australians have been working as consultants to BOCOG (and to London), the most prominent being Sandy Hollway, who has been assisting both Beijing and the International Olympic Committee in using the ‘legacy’ of the Sydney Games to boost Beijing.
In conclusion, whilst China wants Beijing to be the ‘green’ games, in some ways, based of what I have seen of Australia here, we could call them the ‘green and gold’ games. Let’s hope our athletes bring back the gold medals to add to the gold rush won by Australian exporters in Beijing.
*Tim Harcourt is Chief Economist of the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and the author of THE AIRPORT ECONOMIST.