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Local transport

Local Transport

Massive and getting bigger every year, with another 12 lines set to be in operation by 2021, the Běijīng subway system is modern, safe, cheap and easy to use. It does get crowded, though. Fares are ¥3 to ¥8, depending on how far you are travelling. Get hold of a travel card (refundable deposit ¥20) if you don’t want to queue for tickets each time you travel. The travel card also gets you a 50% discount on all bus journeys within the municipality of Běijīng.

To recognise a subway station (地铁站; dì tiě zhàn), look for the subway symbol, which is a blue English capital ‘D’ with a circle around it.

The Metroman smartphone app reveals the Běijīng subway map in all its ever-expanding glory, with stations listed in both English and Chinese.

The Basics

How to Hail a Taxi

  • It's almost always best to simply hail a passing taxi from the side of the road.
  • A red '空车–for hire' sign will be illuminated in the front windscreen when a taxi is free.
  • Your hotel may be able to help arrange a taxi for day trips out of town.

Key Information

Bicycle

The most fun and often the quickest way to get around. Almost every road has a bike lane. Bike rental per day is around ¥50, or take advantage of Běijīng's bike-sharing scheme.

Walking

The best way to see Běijīng’s hútòng.

Subway

Quick, modern and easy to use (all signage is in Chinese and English), but often crowded, so don't expect a seat. Fares range from ¥3 to ¥8.

Bus

Dirt cheap and they go everywhere, but difficult for non-Chinese speakers to negotiate, and often overcrowded. Per trip ¥2; with travel card ¥0.8.

Motor Rickshaw

Fares have to be negotiated (rickshaws don't have meters) and tourists are often heavily overcharged. We don't recommend using them.

Taxi

Cheap by Western standards but at certain times hard to find, and traffic jams can really slow things down. Flag fall is ¥13.

Key Phrases

dǎ dī (打的) To take a taxi (colloquial)

dǎ biǎo (打表) To use the meter

qù _____ duōshǎo qián? How much to _____ ?

zuò chē (坐车) To take a bus

qù _____ ma? Does this go to _____ ?

mǎi piào (买票) To buy a ticket

yīkǎtōng (一卡通) Travel card

shuā kǎ (刷卡) To swipe a travel card

xià chē (下车) To get off any vehicle

dào le! (到了) We've arrived!

kuài dào le (到了) We're nearly there

dǔ chē (堵车) Traffic jam

zū zìxíngchē (租自行车) To rent a bicycle

yǒu suǒ ma? (有锁吗?) Do you have a bike lock?

dǎ qì (打气) To pump up a tyre

Transport Etiquette

  • Do give up your seat for children or the elderly, even if it seems as though others aren't prepared to do so.
  • Passengers of all ages (not just kids) rush to any spare seats the moment the subway doors open.
  • Don't expect people to let you off your subway carriage before they get on.
  • Bus and subway passengers expect to be allowed to move next to the door in preparation for getting off at the next stop.

Top Tips

  • Go right to the very end of subway carriages for a bit more breathing space (but probably still no seat).
  • Every subway platform has public toilets at one end.
  • If a taxi driver refuses to dǎ biǎo (use the meter), get out and find another one.
  • Taxi drivers don't speak English, so always have the name and address in Chinese characters of the place you're going to. And don't forget your hotel's business card, so you can find your way home again.

Tickets & Passes

  • It’s worth getting a free travel card (一卡通; yīkǎtōng; deposit ¥20) at any subway station or large bus station. It makes subway travel more convenient and gives you 60% off all bus rides, including those out to the Great Wall. You can recharge them at most (but not all) subway stations and bus-station ticket kiosks.
  • Children shorter than 1.2 metres travel for free, but each must be accompanied by a fee-paying adult.

When to Travel

  • Rush hour Roughly 7.30am to 8.30am and 6pm to 7pm. This is when the subway is heaving, but it's also very tough to find an available taxi. Avoid these times if you can, or cycle.

  • Rainstorms Taxis are always elusive when it's raining.

  • Evening In areas where there are lots of bars and restaurants, it can be hard to find a taxi from around 8pm to 10pm.

Key Routes

Buses 专1 & 专2 These two handy buses do clockwise circuits of the Forbidden City, looping south to Qiánmén, via Tiān'ānmén Sq.

Subway Lines 1 & 2 For 30 years, until 2002, these were Běijīng's only two subway lines. They're still the most useful for tourists, as between them they get you to the Forbidden City, Tiān'ānmén Sq, the Drum Tower, the Lama Temple, the main train station and the shopping hubs of Xīdān and Wángfǔjǐng.

Rickshaw

Rickshaws (三轮车; sānlúnchē) are less common these days, but you will still see them (both the cycle-powered ones and the motorised ones), especially around major tourist sights. Generally speaking they’re more expensive than taxis, and foreign tourists are often heavily overcharged, so we don't advise using them.

Hútòng Tours

Rickshaw tours (one hour, per person ¥100) can be taken around the Hòuhǎi Lakes and around the alleys by the Drum Tower, although they are aimed mostly at tour groups, and riders don’t speak English.