Getting Around Beijing

BEIJING-TRAFFIC 1795950c

 I have the luxury of living beside a rather picturesque mountain in the outskirts of Beijing. I wont lie to you all, its lovely! Not too polluted, very cheap, perfect. Except for one thing, Beijing is a big city, and I live a tad far (11 km) away from my university (BLCU) which I must attend every weekday morning for class. This leaves me with the slight problem of commuting the distance during the famous Beijing rush hour. To help you put my problem into perspective, Beijing has over 20 million people, all of whom seemingly want to get on the exact bus I want to at 0730 on a freezing Monday morning. I am not alone in this probpem though, no matter where you live in Beijing you will at somepoint have a commute on your hands, whether it is to your university, local supermarket, tutors house or just downtown Beijing. The following is my attempt at a transport graduates review of Beijing’s transport network to allow for some little extra planning before coming to China:
 
 
Taking the Subway ()

If this was 2014, I would not even be writing this article as the Beijing Subway would of won this contest before it even begun. Assuming you could brave the rush hour crowds, it was cheap at just 2 a ticket for all journeys as well as clean, air-conditioned and punctual. Sadly the good times are gone, 2015 has bought with it a more complex ticketing system essentially doubling the price of fares without much of an apparent improvement of service. Still I thoroughly recommend making sure you live within striking distance of a subway stop as they serve as transport nodes and beacons for the city in general.

All categories are out of five:

Cost / affordability – J J J

Reliability – J J J J J

Personal comfort - J

Practicality & User-friendliness - J J J J

Time - J J J J

Safety - J J J J (it can get a bit packed and can be prone to pickpocketing)

Overall – x21 J 

The Bus

A real cheap gem if you can learn how to use them. The Beijing bus network dwarfs its subway equivalent, serving parts of the city that most of the other transport methods cannot even get close to and at a fraction of the price. The downside is that the bus relies upon good road conditions and a strong ability to read Chinese characters. Good situational awareness is also need to make sure you don’t miss your stop.

Cost / affordability - J J J J J (its 1 for any journey using a transport card)

Reliability - J J

Personal comfort - J J

Practicality & User-friendliness - J J

Time - J J

Safety - J J J J

Overall – x14 J

Electric Scooter 

This is a novel way to travel, which most Western cities simply don’t have. Imagine a moped but with an electric motor. The general rule of thumb in Beijing is that unless it uses a combustible fuel, you don’t need a license to drive it. In terms of running costs, prices start from around ¥1000 which is about 5-6 months of subway fares assuming the electricity to charge it is already paid for. The range is about 30km meaning it’s an option even for my monstrously long commute. The only draw back is that it can get pretty cold in the winter and they are a target for thieves. Aside from that, enjoy whizzing past the gridlock as you speed your way to class each morning.

Cost / affordability - J J

Reliability - J J (I only gave it two due to amount of times I’ve seen people run out of battery in the middle of nowhere).

Personal comfort - J J J

Practicality & User-friendliness - J J J J

Time - J J J J J

Safety - J J J

Overall – x19 J

The Bicycle

The bicycle is a really interesting one here in Beijing. First of all, Beijingers love their bikes, even more than the electric scooter, which is saying something! Although Chinese driving ability can be sub standard at best, bikes need not worry as they and their electric counterparts are allowed to use a segregated part of the road removing 90% of the traffic. In terms of prices, bicycles are very cheap, some costing as little as ¥120 with quality suffering, while ¥350 would get you something a little more comfortable and reliable. Too further advantages of using a push bike in Beijing is that they can go almost anywhere, a bus might take you to your campus but leave you with a 20 minute walk, a bicycle will take you up to your building. It also saves money on a gym membership and stops you ballooning out as you munch your way through some delicious Chinese food on a daily basis.

Cost / affordability - J J J J

Reliability - J J J J(the quality of the bicycles can suffer on occasion, its often cheaper to buy a new one then get a badly worn one repaired).

Personal comfort - J J

Practicality & User-friendliness - J J J J J

Time - J J J J

Safety - J J J 

Overall – x22 J

Taxis

Are yes! The luxury and glamour of using a taxi. Unlike my native London where hardly anyone in their right state of mind uses an inexplicably expensive black cab. Chinese cities (and Beijing is no exception) have an absolute abundance of taxis. Sometimes making up the majority of the road traffic. Taxi’s here are also cheap (comparatively), with the fare starting at around ¥14. My 11km journey would cost me ¥35 one way, and if I could find three other friends, it would be less then ¥10. In reality, despite their appeal, I very rarely use taxis. They are comparatively expensive compared to other modes of transport, you will have to deliver a small speech in Chinese to get the taxi driver to realise where you want to go, they can be prone (one rare occasions) to misuse by those who don’t know what their doing and they are as reliant upon good traffic conditions as the buses are. Overall they rank in as follows:

Cost / affordability - J (¥35 per journey will rack up a heck of a cost)

Reliability - J J J J (they will get you to where you want to go, but good luck getting a taxi in the rain)!

Personal comfort - J J J J J

Practicality & User-friendliness - J J J

Time - J J J J  (available 24 hours a day, unless its raining)

Safety - J J J J

Overall x 21

The votes are in and would you believe it, it’s the bike! I had better get down to the bike shop on Wu Dao Kou and start choosing a colour which suits me. Purple?

 

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Written By Andrew Cole - CSA Intern Spring 2015
Andrew spent one year living in Xi'an prior to his study in Beijing. He also holds a transport degree from Loughborough University, hence why he wont stop writing about trains...

 

 

 

 

 

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