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Local Transport

Long-distance transport in China is good, but local transport is less efficient, except for cities with metro systems. The choice of local transport is diverse but vehicles can be slow and overburdened, and the network confusing for visitors. Hiring a car is often impractical, while hiring a bike can be inadequate. Unless the town is small, walking is often too tiring. On the plus side, local transport is cheap, taxis are usually ubiquitous and affordable, and metro systems continue to rapidly expand in large tourist towns.

Bus

With extensive networks, buses are an excellent way to get around town, but foreign travellers rarely use them. Ascending a bus, point to your destination on a map and the conductor (seated near the door) will sell you the right ticket. The conductor will usually tell you where to disembark, provided they remember. In conductor-less buses, you put money in a slot near the driver as you embark.

  • Fares are very cheap (usually ¥1 to ¥2) but buses may be packed.
  • In cities such as Běijīng, Shànghǎi and Hong Kong, a locally purchased transport card can be used on the buses.
  • Navigation is tricky for non-Chinese speakers as bus routes at bus stops are generally listed in Chinese, without Pinyin.
  • In Běijīng and Shànghǎi and other large tourist towns, stops will be announced in English.
  • Always have change ready if there is no conductor on the bus.
  • Buses with snowflake motifs are air-conditioned.
  • Traffic can make things slow.

Subway, Metro & Light Rail

Going underground or using light rail is fast, efficient and cheap; most networks are either very new or relatively recent and can be found in a rapidly growing number of cities, including Běijīng, Shànghǎi, Sūzhōu, Xī’ān, Hángzhōu, Tiānjīn, Chéngdū, Shènzhèn, Wǔhàn, Kūnmíng, Chóngqìng and Hong Kong.

Taxi

Taxis (出租汽车; chūzū qìchē) are cheap and easy to find. Taxi rates per kilometre are clearly marked on a sticker on the rear side window of the taxi; flag fall varies from city to city, and depends upon the size and quality of the vehicle.

Most taxis have meters but they may only be switched on in larger towns and cities. If the meter is not used (on an excursion out of town, for example, or when hiring a taxi for the day or half-day), negotiate a price before you set off and write the fare down. If you want the meter used, ask for dǎbiǎo (打表). Also ask for a receipt (发票; fāpiào); if you leave something in the taxi, the taxi number is printed on the receipt so it can be located.

Note that:

  • Congregation points include train and long-distance bus stations, but usually you can just flag taxis down.
  • Taxi drivers rarely speak any English so have your destination written down in characters.
  • If you have communication problems, consider using your mobile to phone your hotel for staff to interpret.
  • You can hire taxis on a daily or half-day basis, often at reasonable rates (always bargain).
  • To use the same driver again, ask for his or her card (名片; míngpiàn).
  • In many provinces, taxis often cover long-distance bus routes. They generally charge around 30% to 50% more but are much faster. You need to wait for four passengers.

Other Local Transport

A variety of ramshackle transport options exist across China; always agree on a price in advance (preferably have it written down).

  • Motor pedicabs are enclosed three-wheeled vehicles (often the same price as taxis).

  • Pedicabs are pedal-powered versions of motor pedicabs.

  • Motorbike riders also offer lifts in some towns for what should be half the price of a regular taxi. You must wear a helmet – the driver will provide one.