One of the cheapest, most exhilarating forms of entertainment in the
People’s Republic has to be the country’s local transportation. For a
single yuan you can synthesis what it is to be canned fish with a trip
on the city bus, and for only a handful more you can gain a new respect
for life as a cabbie reenacts scenes from Bullitt while casually questioning you about what country you’re from and how much your salary is.
The major forms of local transportation in China are busses, taxis,
motorcycle taxis, and mini taxis. In the larger cities, this is
supplemented with modern light-rails and subway systems. What follows is
a brief description of each.
The quality and price of busses varies from place to place, and
usually will be more expensive depending on how big the city is, and how
far you need to go. Generally speaking though, the bus will cost you
between one and two yuan per ride. This payment does most definitely not
entitle you to any sort of seating; in fact, depending on the time of
day, you may have trouble getting on the bus at all without having your
rear or extremities caught in the door.
You’ll need exact change for most city-run buses, but the privately
run ones will break a bill for you if you need it. You can generally
tell the difference between the two as the private busses often have a
person hanging out a window shouting the destination and price, or
possibly jumping right out of the vehicle and trying to pull you
Taxis also change in price depending on where you are in China.
Usually the cab will have a fixed rate for the first so-many kilometers,
and then charge a fixed rate for every bit of distance after that.
Often the base-rate is posted on the car door windows, and should also
be the amount initially stated on the meter. You may be able to
negotiate a set price if you don’t want to go off the meter, but unless
you know the distance and approximate amount it should cost, this can be
If you require your taxi to obey all traffic regulations, not
endanger the lives of pedestrians, and generally respect your health and
safety — be advised, you might want to choose another form of
transportation. If you’ve seen the high-speed highway chase scene in the
second Matrix movie, you’ll have some preliminary idea of what the average Chinese cab ride is like.
Cabbie’s can be both friend and foe, but as with many things in China,
if you’re foreign, you’re often seen as a walking yuan sign. It’s a fact
of China being a poorer nation, and it’s not likely to change while
this Web site is still running, so best to accept it and be on guard.
Watch the meter and do your best to remember the general direction
things are so you can determine if you’re being taken for a ride, other
than that expected. There are a few notorious places for tourists being
ripped off with cab rides, with meters often getting doubled in price —
be on guard coming from train & bus stations and/or airports. Look
for designated taxi stands, and avoid pushy black car drivers that jump
on you as soon as you exit the station.
This is a convenient and slightly cheaper alternative to standard
taxis. These guys, looking every bit the part on their bikes (despite
the knit seat covers), can duck and weave through traffic like there’s
no tomorrow – which has been quite literally the case for many
passengers. As one of China’s more dangerous forms of transport, be wary
you’re not sacrificing safety for savings. There is rarely a set rate,
and always negotiate the price before you hop on.
Commonly called Sanlunche (三轮车) or beng-bengs (named so from the
noise they admit), mini taxis are similar in function if not design as
Thailand’s somewhat notorious tuk-tuks. Essentially a motorcycle engine
powering a tricycle of sorts, these little guys can’t get up much speed,
and thus aren’t great for longer distances, but they’re a good
alternative to taxis, and slightly safer than motorbikes. As with their
two-wheeled brethren, barter the price before the journey.
More and more of the sprawling metropolises that make up China’s vast
collection of cities are building some sort of urban rail system,
whether above ground or beneath it. As the country continues to prosper
economically, more and more people are filling up the roads with
automobiles. As such, the government has a very real challenge of
developing a mass-transit system to ease these pressures. With more than
40 cities with populations exceeding 1 million people, it’s an
understatement to say it's a rather large-scale task. Cities currently
with a subway system include: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou,
Wuhan, Chongqing, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Tianjin. Cities with subways in
some form of development include: Qingdao, Haerbin, Hangzhou, Dalian,
Suzhou and Xi'an.