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Beijing/Public Transport

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Beijing is an enormous city and the range of attractions is spread across the city. It is not possible to walk, and few visitors will be travelling by private car. While a bicycle is an option for the central Xicheng and Dongcheng Districts it is likely you use either taxis, the subway and the occasional bus to get around.

Fortunately, Beijing's public transport network is reliable and expansive. Every year there are more subway lines, more bus routes and more taxis. The following article provides information additional to the main article about the public transport system and how to use it.

By subway[edit]

Beijing Subway [1] is a great way to quickly get around the city and is clearly marked in English for travelers. For budget-conscious travelers or those wanting to stretch their legs, it may serve as a better mode of transport than taxis. At ¥3-9 per trip based on distance, it is perhaps the nicest and cheapest subway system in the world. The network has expanded at a furious pace in recent years, with 17 lines currently operating and current lines expanding and new lines under construction or planned. Be warned that during rush hour trains can be extremely crowded and many popular stations have outdoor queues during rush hour(s) so plan accordingly (especially if weather is not agreeable). The subway system does not operate 24 hours so be sure to utilize the signs posted at each station.

Beijing Subway map (note: not to scale)

The lines are as following:

  • Line 1 is the oldest line in all of Mainland China. It runs east-west from Sihui East to Pingguoyuan crossing the political heart of the city along Chang'an Avenue, passing the Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square, Wangfujing and arguably the city's most important CBD area, Guomao . It connects with Lines 10 (2x), 2 (2x), 5, (soon 8), 4, and 9.
  • Line 2 is a loop line following the old city walls. The first and last trains start/end at Xizhimen and the line serves Gulou Dajie (near Bell and Drum Towers) Yonghegong Lama Temple, Beijing Railway Station, Qianmen (just south of Tian'anmen Sq) and the terminus of the Airport Express line (Dongzhimen Station).
  • Line 3 broke ground in 2014 and completion date is yet to be announced. Once completed it will serve west side of the city.
  • Line 4 runs north-south and serves Beihai Park, Peking University, Beijing Zoo, and Beijing South Railway Station. It connects to Lines 10 (2x), 9, 13, 2 (2x), 6, and 1.
  • Line 5 runs north-south and connects with Lines 13, 10 (2x), 2 (2x), 6 and 1. It has stations in close proximity to the Olympic Park in the north and Temple of Heaven in the south. The most notable stop is Yonghegong Lama Temple.
  • Line 6 runs west-east to the north of Line 1 and to the south of the upper half of Line 2. It connects to Lines 10, 8, 5, 2, 9, 14, and 4. Notable stops include Nanluoguxiang and Ping'anli Stations.
  • Line 7 serves the southern metro core area and runs south of Line 1. When it opened in December 2014, it was the longest train of all the network and first to use all-China made components and design. The east-west line starts in the west from Beijing West Railway Station before stopping in one of the city's CBD areas at Shuangjing Station (as of Feb 2015 not yet open), and continues eastwards to more suburban-feeling areas. It connects with Lines 9, 4, 5, and 10.
  • Line 8 operates from Beitucheng (on Line 10) and serves Olympic Stadium in the north of the city to Nanluoguxiang in the south. Additional key stations include Gulou Dajie (Bell and Drum Towers) and Shichahai Stations (nearest station to Houhai Lake). As of January 2015 it runs south to Nanluoguxiang and connects with Lines 13, 15, 10, 2, 6 and suburban Changping Line. Phase III (starting 2014) will extend the line further south.
  • Line 9 is a short line serving Fengtai District. The most notable stop is Beijing West Railway Station. It connects to Lines 4, 6, 7, 1, and 10 and eventually connects to suburban Fangshan Line.
  • Line 10 runs in another loop line around the city and is useful to connect to Line 8 to reach Olympic Stadium. Notable stops include Sanyuanqiao (one of two stations which connect with Airport Express), Liangmaqiao (one of the city's embassy districts), Tuanjiehu (nearest station to Sanlitun area) and arguably the city's most important CBD area, Guomao. As one of two lines which stops at Guomao, it is one of the most crowded lines on the entire network. Line 10 is the second loop line, running further from center of the city than Line 2. The line more or less follows the Third Ring Road. It connects to every single numbered line in the system except Line 15.
  • Line 12 broke ground in 2014 and completion date is yet to be announced.
  • Line 13 is a largely above-ground line serving connecting to the northern section of the city, including Changping District. The line starts at Xizhimen and ends at Dongzhimen and forms a large arc. Connects to Lines 5, 8, and two times each for Lines 10 and 2 and suburban line Changping Line. Notable stops include Xizhimen, Wudaokou, and Dongzhimen.
  • Line 14 is complete in two of an eventual three sections, with Phase III (as of Feb 2105 ongoing) connecting the southwest and northeast portion of the line and additional stations in the east (including notable station serving Chaoyang Park). Currently it has seven stations in the southwest and 10 in the east/northeast. Notable stops include Jiangtai (serving 798 Art District) and Wangjing South (Wangjing CBD has large offices of several companies). When Phase II was completed (Dec 2014), it brought the number of connecting lines to 4 (9, 10, 6, 15). Phase III will include connecting to Line 4's Beijing South Railway Station, Shuangjing and Dawanglu (CBD areas), .
  • Line 15 is still partially under construction but currently runs westward (near Wudaokou) and Olympic grounds, continuing eastward through the Wangjing CBD and Shunyi District. It connects with Lines 13, 5, 8, and 14. The line serves the northern part of the city, running north of Line 10. Notable stops include Wangjing, China International Exhibition Center, Olympic Green and Shunyi.
  • Line 17 broke ground in 2014 and completion date is yet to be announced.
  • New Airport Line broke ground in 2014 and a completion date is yet to be announced. It will be 50-km long and connect to five stations, including the yet-to-be-named second airport (technically the third if considering Nanyuan Airport) in the south of the city in Daxing District.
  • Batong, Yizuang, Changping, Daxing and Fangshan lines connect the outer suburbs to the city and are of little use for tourists.

Transfers between lines are permitted with the exception of the Airport Express, for which a separate ticket is required.

Subway station in Beijing

Subway station entrances are identified by a large blue stylized letter G wrapped around a smaller letter B. Single tickets are purchased at vending machines (with English instructions) which accept ¥1 coins or ¥5 or ¥10 bills and require you to know the station you will be exiting at in order to calculate the correct fare. Subway trips are limited to 4 hours. You must pass your ticket through the turnstiles upon entering and exiting the station, so make sure you don't lose it. Do not buy multiple tickets thinking it will be a pack of general multiple-use tickets as a ticket is only valid from the station you bought it, on the day you bought it.

To avoid the inconvenience of single-ticket purchases, pick up anYīkātōng (一卡通 ) pre-paid card, which has a ¥20 refundable deposit and no expiry. Swipe the card at the entrance turnstile and again upon exiting. The use of the pre-paid card does not reduce the subway fare although it does dramatically reduce bus fares, by 50%. The card's deposit can only be returned at a few stations, so passing it on to a friend may be easier than getting your deposit back. Stations that offer a refund clearly state "Yikatong refund" in the ticket booth; examples include Xizhimen and Haidianhuangzhuang.

If you are carrying luggage, purses or camera bags you must pass through the X-ray checks at the stations. During morning and evening rush hours the stations and trains become very crowded - particularly try to avoid Lines 1 & 2 as the old 1970s stations with their narrow passageways and open-edged platforms are not designed for the large numbers of passengers seen today.

By bus[edit]

Beijing's bus system is cheap, convenient and covers the entire city—perfect for locals but, alas, difficult to use if you do not understand Chinese or Mandarin. The bus staffs speak little English, and only a few bus lines in the city center broadcast stop names in English. Bus stop signs are also entirely in Chinese. But should you speak Mandarin, have a healthy sense of adventure, and a fair bit of patience, a bus can get you almost anywhere, and often somewhere that you never intended to go. It is a great way to see parts of the city that tourists normally do not visit.

Many buses feature air-conditioning (heating in the winter), TVs, a scrolling screen that displays stops in Chinese (and sometimes English), and a broadcast system that announces stops. If you are having problems navigating the bus system, call the English-speaking operators at the Beijing Public Transportation Customer Helpline (96166).

Warning: Beijing buses can get very crowded so be prepared and keep an eye on your valuables. Indeed, the overhead speakers on more modern buses will announce a warning to this effect on the more crowded lines. Pickpockets tag along on buses and subways, so carry backpacks in the front, and try to put your valuables somewhere hard to access. Be aware of a scam offering bus rides to the Great Wall masquerading as the real bus service. Instead of directly driving to the Great Wall, you will instead be led to a series of tours to dilapidated theme parks, shops, museums, and other tourist traps before finally reaching the Great Wall near the end of the day.

Bus routes[edit]

Bus lines are numbered from 1-999. Buses under 300 serve the city center. Buses 300 and up run between the city center and further (such as beyond the Third Ring Road). Buses in the 900s connect Beijing with its "rural" districts (i.e., Changping, Yanqing, Shunyi, etc).

Full maps of the system are available only in Chinese. The Beijing Public Transport Co. website has information in English, but both the Chinese version and English Versions have a very helpful routing service with an interactive map. You can input your starting point and your ending point and see all the bus routes that will get you from A to B, look up a bus route by number, or input a place name and see all the routes that go stop there. Alternative places to look for bus routes are Google maps, Baidu, Edushi (click the bus flash icon) or Mapbar.

Fares and operating hours[edit]

This section requires updates as cash fares have increased on Dec 28, 2014 to a minimum of ¥2 per ride with cash fare.

Most buses with a line number under 200 run daily 05:00-23:00. Buses with a line number greater than 300 run 06:00-22:00. All buses with a line number in the 200s are night buses. Many routes get very crowded during rush hours (06:30-09:00 and 16:00-20:00). On major holidays, there will be more frequent service on most city routes.

Most metro-based bus fares are ¥2, and if you get a public transportation card from a subway station (a card that acts as a debit card for subway, buses and taxis) you can get a 60% discount on all bus transfers. Some buses have travel thru the metro and on to suburbs and charge distance-based fare, so be sure to swipe your card upon exiting or you will be charged as if traveling the full route (a good rule of thumb is if there is a meter posted at a bus exit, you should swipe).

For passengers paying by cash, always have exact fare: Lines 1-199 operate on a flat rate of ¥1 per journey. Lines 300-899 charge ¥1 for the first 12 km of each journey and ¥0.5 for each additional 5 km. Buses with air-conditioning (800-899) start at ¥2. The night buses (200-299) charge ¥2 per journey. Lines 900-999 charge according to the distance.

For passengers paying by the new pre-paid Smart Card: Lines 1-499 operate on a flat rate of ¥0.40 per journey. Lines 500-899 get 60% off the cash price. There are also 3-day, 7-day and 15-day passes available for travellers. There is no return ticket or day ticket.

By taxi[edit]

Beijing taxis, with a dark yellow strip and name of the taxi company in the center, and other parts are dark reddish brown (also could be white, dark green or dark blue)

Taxis are a convenient choice when traveling as a family or with luggage. Fares are very reasonable. Downsides can be attempting to hail one during rush hours (when some drivers simply don't operate due to a hit on their profits) or suffering through traffic jams.

Though some residents of Beijing know conversational English, especially in the areas frequented by tourists, popular office areas or Haidian District's university cluster, one should not count on finding a taxi driver or passer-by who knows English well. Neither should a foreigner with minimal experience with the Chinese language put undue faith in his or her ability to pronounce Chinese place names so that a local can understand clearly. Before embarking on a trip around the city, it is best to print out the names of places you want to visit in Chinese characters, or get your hotel front desk staff to write them out for you. When going to specific addresses writing nearby intersections or basic directions can be helpful as well. Show the text to the taxi driver, or just ask for help on the street.

Some drivers may be reluctant to pick up foreigners, with some having bad experiences. If a taxi driver does pick you up, as one should wherever visiting, treat the driver with courtesy and you will likely not have any problems. Vehicles used as taxis are predominantly the Hyundai Elantra and some Sonatas, with Volkswagen Santanas and (older) Jettas and Citroëns making up the older fleet and less common. These taxis are dark red, or yellow top with dark blue bottom, or painted with new colors (see picture). A small percentage of models are painted all black. Luxurious black executive cars (usually Audis) can also be found, usually waiting outside hotels.

If a driver rolls down the car window to talk with you before allowing you to get in, they are trying to find out if your destination is the same as the way they are going (perhaps to re-fuel, swap the car with the other operator of the cab upon the end of their shift, to grab a meal). If you get in the taxi and close the door and the driver refuses your destination, it could also be because traffic is busy towards that direction and the driver is not interested. However, if once the flag falls, that means the driver is legally obligated to take you to your destination. Do not be put off if the driver refuses to go to your destination; be put off if they refuse after the flag has dropped. Some travelers who know the area or language better may be able to set up a negotiated fare with the driver, but by and large, drivers will use the meter and passengers should accept any risks for not doing so.

Do not waste your time on taxis parked near the high traffic locations, near subway stations and near hotels. They either won't take you at all, or will refuse to use meter and the asked fare would be a rip-off (it is not unusual to be asked ¥100 for a ride which is metered at ¥30). Just walk extra 50 meters and take the moving empty taxi.

In the more remote places of Beijing, you might not be able to find any official taxis. However, in these places there will most likely be plenty of unofficial taxis. These might be difficult to recognize for travelers, but the drivers will address you if you look like you are searching for a taxi. Remember to negotiate the fare before you go and accept any risks that may accompany such a decision (inflated fare, lack of insurance in the instance of an accident, or worse). Local people usually pay a bit less for the unofficial taxis than for the official ones, but the asking price for travelers will often be much higher (if going to a popular location it is not uncommon for an unregistered driver to ask for a higher price due to few if any travelers taking their unlicensed taxi; in essence, you may be paying for their return trip to an area of town where unlicensed drivers are more commonly found). Also be aware that while China has low rates of violent crime, unofficial taxis are less safe - there are some reports of theft and assaults.

A note on maps
Beijing is changing at such a phenomenal pace and it's one of the physically largest cities in the world. Foreign maps will be unavailable, so you'll need English-language Sinomaps guides at official bookshops (¥30-40) or 5-star hotel concierge desks. Avoid the fake Sinomaps on standard paper, which are years out of date and lack detail.

Fares and meters[edit]

Taxis charge a starting fee of ¥13, and an additional ¥2.3/km after the first 3 kilometres. As of January 15, 2015, the ¥1 fuel tax which was added to the total for all rides has been abandoned. (Adding a bit of confusion, however, the fee will not be fully implemented across the entire taxi fleet until January 21; if the receipt states to pay the surchage, the passenger is required to do so.) Taxi meters keep running when the speed is slower than 12 km/hr; 5 min of waiting time equals 1 km running. Outside of rush hour, an average daytime trip costs around ¥20-30, and a cross-town journey about ¥50 (for example, from the city center to the northern side of the Fourth Ring Road).

If the taxi driver takes the toll road, you may also be asked to pay the toll charges which are typically ¥5 or ¥10. Typically drivers ask if you want to take a toll road if there is an alternative road (typically with much more traffic), but if there is no alternative, such as the Airport Expressway, the driver won't ask you in advance. Just gesture the driver to pass the receipt to you while passing the toll booth if you see the driver passing the payment to the operator.

If the taxi driver "forgets" to switch the taxi meter on, remind him by politely asking them to run the meter and gesturing at the meter box (请打表 qǐng dǎbiǎo), though most can understand "meter please", and all can understand a simple point at the meter. At the end, it is a good idea to ask for a receipt (发票 fā piào) also while gesturing to the meter and making a writing motion. Having a receipt is handy in case you want to make a complaint later or for business reimbursement purposes, and since the receipt has the cab number, you stand a greater chance of getting your possessions back if you forget anything in the taxi.

If you want a tour around Beijing and its vicinity, you can ask your hotel to hire a cab for one day or several days. It usually costs ¥400-600 per day, depending on where you go. You can also ask just about any driver to perform this service as most are more than willing to do so. If you have Chinese-speaking assistance, then bargain down the cost. No matter the cost, the taxi is yours for the day and will wait for you at various destinations.

During times of rain, hailing a taxi is more difficult due to extreme demand. Most of them refuse to take passengers and, besides, many will try to rise their fares. Although it seems unreasonable (triple to five times the normal fare), sometimes it is better to take their offers than to wait for another cab.

Avoiding scams and fakes[edit]

All official taxis have license plates beginning with the letter "B" which is reserved for public transportation vehicles, as in "京B". "Black cabs" may look like taxis but their license plates will start with letters other than B. It's nearly impossible to hail a black cab on the streets; they generally hang out around tourist sights like the Great Wall and the Summer Palace or around subway stops. Black cabs will charge you a higher fee for the journey, unless you are a good bargainer, know where you are going, and know what the right fare should be. Sometimes they drop foreign tourists in wrong places. In some extreme cases, the driver may even take them to the countryside and rob them. If you find you hired a fake taxi and are overcharged, don't argue if you are alone, pay the driver and remember the car's license plate number, then call police later.

To avoid being taken advantage of, it is a good idea to know the rough direction, cost, and distance of your destination. You can easily find this out from asking locals or your hotel receptionist before calling a cab. Verify these values with the taxicab driver to show them that you are in the know, and are probably too much trouble to cheat. Keep track of the direction of travel with a compass and/or the sun. If the cab goes in the wrong direction for a long distance, verify the location with the taxi driver. For scamming drivers, that is usually enough for them to go back on the right track (without ever acknowledging that they were trying to cheat you). Honest drivers will explain why they are going that way. In addition, sometimes a cab driver might tell you an extravagant price to get somewhere and tell you the meter is broken.

There are several "makeshift taxis" running around Beijing including a seat fixed up to the back of an electric scooter. These guys will scam you big time if you don't negotiate a clear fare beforehand. Upon arriving your destination, for a 2 minute ride, the driver will demand an exorbitant amount and will be very belligerent if you don't pay it.

Keep in mind that central Beijing can be off limits at certain times, forcing cabs to reroute. And some roads forbid left turns (with big road signs) either at certain hours or all the time, so the driver might make a detour.