The Beijing metro system (ditie) is undergoing a process of rapid expansion. This is leading to traffic snarls at ground level, which make using the existing lines essential. The Olympics ushered in a host of new lines, brand-new trains, and modern electronic ticket-reading gates.
Eventually there will be 15 metro and light-rail lines, but for now the system consists of 7 lines. The Loop Line (sometimes known as Line 2), which follows the upper portion of the Second Ring Road, cutting across under Qian Men, effectively follows the line of the Tartar City walls that were demolished to make its construction possible (the Dongnan Jiaolou, home to the Red Gate Gallery, was spared because the metro takes a turn at that point). Line 1 runs from Pingguo Yuan in the west, the site of Capital Iron and Steel and other heavy industry which are the sources of much of Beijing's pollution, right across town beneath Chang'an Jie and its extensions to Si Hui Dong in the east. The Baotong Line extends Line 1 into the eastern suburbs. The light-rail Line 13 swings in a suburban loop to the north, from the Loop Line's Xi Zhi Men to Dong Zhi Men stations. New to this book are lines 5, 8, and 10. Line 5 runs north-south, cutting through the Loop Line and lines 1, 10, and 13. Line 8 is just three stops that run to the Olympic sites and venues. Line 10 traces the northeast perimeter of Third Ring Road (eventually it will trace the southwest portion as well). Stations are numbered (see the Beijing metro map, on the inside front cover of this book), signs on platforms tell you which station is the next in each direction, and English announcements are made on trains, so navigation is not difficult.
Ticket booths are below ground, and a ticket costs ¥2 for a ride anywhere with unlimited transfers. The metro card, officially known as the "Municipal Administration and Communication Card" (Shizheng Jiaotong Yikatong, or Yikatong for short) can be bought for a ¥40 minimum, including the ¥20 refundable deposit. You can buy and return cards at any station. Single-ride tickets are available from the cashier or from the new electronic ticketing machines that have service in English.
Entrances are not always clearly marked. Find them on maps, marked with a D (for ditie) in a circle, and look for the same sign at entrances. Escalators are up only, staircases are long, and there are no elevators. Some stops have installed wheelchair stair lifts, but not all. Those with limited mobility should stay on the surface.
Beijing's rapid conversion from a city for bicycles to one for cars has brought the inevitable traffic jams. Get on the road well before 7:30am to beat the rush, or forget it until about 10am. The city's arteries start to clog again about 3pm, and circulation slows to a crawl until 7:30pm. Take the metro to the point nearest your destination and jump in a cab from there.
The red Fukang, a Citroen joint venture built in Wuhan on the Yangzi River, are slightly older than the colorful Xiandai (Hyundai, a Beijing-based joint venture) taxis. The Xiandai have better air-conditioning and are much roomier. Both have an initial charge of ¥10, which includes 2km (1.2 miles), and each subsequent kilometer is ¥2, or ¥3 after 15km (9 1/3 miles).
There is a mix of old and new Santana and Jetta cabs built in various Volkswagen joint ventures around China. They're similar to popular Volkswagen models in the West and are equally solid. A joint venture between LXI (London Taxis International) and Shanghai-based Geely Automobile produced spacious, London-style hansom cabs specifically for limited-mobility travelers (same price as the sedans). They were seen widely around town during the Paralympic Games, but are now few and far between. Beijing does have taxis with dodgy meters that hang around larger hotels where corrupt bellhops call them for you.
All taxis are metered. But on the front of the meter they also have a button, for one-way trips out of town, which is pushed regardless of the type of trip to be taken. This causes the per-kilometer rate to increase by 50% after 15km (9 1/3 miles). If you hire the vehicle to take you somewhere, wait, and bring you back, or to run you around town all day, then insist that the button not be pushed. As elsewhere in the world, the meter also ticks over slowly when the vehicle is stationary or moving very slowly.
Between 11pm and 5am the meter starts at ¥11 and rates increase to ¥2.40 per kilometer, or ¥3.40 after 15km (9 1/3 miles).
Ten Tips for Taking Taxis around Town --
1. Never go with a driver who approaches you at the airport (or railway stations). Leave the building and head for the rank. As with everywhere else in the world, airport taxis are the most likely to cause trouble. Drivers who approach you are usually hei che -- illegal and meterless "black cabs."
2. Cabs waiting for business outside major tourist sights, especially those whose drivers call out to foreigners, should be avoided, as should cabs whose drivers ask you where you want to go before you even get in. Always flag down a passing cab, and 9 times in 10 the precautions listed here will be unnecessary.
3. Better hotels give you a piece of paper with the taxi registration number on it as you board or alight, so that you can complain if something goes wrong. Often you won't know if it has, of course, and there's no guarantee that anything will happen if you complain to the hotel, but hang onto it anyway.
4. Look to see if the supervision card, usually with a photo of the driver and a telephone number, is prominently displayed, as regulations require. If it isn't, you may have problems. Choose another cab.
5. Can you clearly see the meter? If it's recessed behind the gear stick, or partly hidden by an artfully folded towel, for example, choose another cab.
6. Always make sure you see the meter reset. If you didn't see the flag pushed down, which shouldn't happen until you actually move off, then you may end up paying for the time the cab was in the rank. This is a particularly popular scam outside better hotels.
7. If you are by yourself, sit in the front seat. Have a map with you and look as if you know where you are going (even if you don't).
8. Rates per kilometer are clearly posted on the side of the cab. The flag drop of ¥10 includes 2km (1 1/4 miles), after which the standard ¥2 kilometer rate begins. But in Beijing, after 15km (9 1/3 miles), the rate jumps by 50% if the driver has pushed the "one-way" button on the front of the meter. This button is for one-way trips out of town and usually should not be pushed, but always is. As a result, it's rarely worthwhile to have a cab wait for you with the meter running and take you back.
9. Pay what's on the meter, and don't tip -- the driver will insist on giving change. Always ask for a receipt (fa piao). Should you leave something in a cab, there's a remarkably high success rate at getting even valuable items back if you call the number on the receipt and provide the details. You'll need the assistance of a Mandarin speaker.
10. If you'd like to have one cab driver for your entire stay, you can arrange a day rate. These are subject to negotiation, but expect to pay ¥400 to ¥500 per day if you are staying within the city.
There used to be considerable charm in being one fish in a vast shoal of bicycles, but cycling is now ill-advised for the timid (or sensibly cautious). But enthusiasts for two-wheeled travel will certainly find that at some times of day they can get around more quickly than anyone else. Many upmarket hotels will rent you a bicycle for around ¥500 for the day; however, a new bike may be purchased for as little as ¥250, so if you're going to be using a bike for a few days, buying one is a better deal. Don't expect sophisticated accessories such as gears on rental bikes or bikes purchased for these prices -- flat Beijing does not require them anyway. Budget accommodations and some bike enclosures next to metro stops charge a more appropriate ¥20 per hour. Check the bike's condition carefully, especially the brakes and tires. Sidewalk bicycle-repair operations are everywhere and will make repairs for a few yuan, if worst comes to worst. Always park the bike in marked and supervised enclosures, using the lock, which is built in or provided, or expect the bike to be gone when you get back. The parking fee is usually ¥.20.
The rule of the road is "me first," regardless of signs, traffic lights, road markings, safety considerations, or common sense, unless someone with an ability to fine or demand a bribe is watching. In general, the bigger your vehicle, the more authority you have. Maximum selfishness in the face of common sense characterizes driving in general, and there is no maneuver so ludicrous or unexpected that someone will not attempt it. Residents have time to adapt -- visitors do not. Our strong advice is to forget it, and take a taxi. If you are intent on driving in Beijing, keep in mind that foreign driver's licenses are not recognized in China and you will have to take a driving exam to obtain the proper permits.
Unless you are on the tightest of backpacker budgets and are traveling alone, your first choice for getting around town is the metro, your second choice is taxi, and your last resort should be the bus. There are dedicated bus lanes during rush hours, but everyone gets bottlenecked during those times. Regular bus fares start at ¥1, while air-conditioned buses charge ¥2 and up. Fares are slightly cheaper with metro cards. Entrance and exit doors are marked with the shang ("up" or "get on") and xia ("down" or "get off") characters, respectively.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.