Finding transportation in China can be confusing, crazy and costly if you choose the wrong option at the wrong time the results can be catastrophic. There are many extraneous variables that will effect one mode of transport in a hugely positive or negative way. For example, if you wanted to get somewhere fast the seemingly obvious option would be to take a taxi. However, it may be quicker for you to walk as there will be a traffic jam in the center of the city.
Here are the pros and cons of the five different methods of transport you will find in the big Chinese cities.
Pros: Taking the bus in China is very cheap, and you can use your metro card to pay for the service. It is also a great chance to see the city as you can see over the cars when stuck in jams and look at the incredible scenery, buildings and people which getting to your destination.
Cons: Most of the time the buses are crammed full of people and getting a seat is a privilege. Bus schedules are hard to read especially when you are in a rush, and in China it’s no different. In fact, they are even harder to read as the text will be in Chinese.
As with all transport on the road in Chinese cities, the time it will take to get to your desired location will vary on traffic. It can be incredibly tedious watching cyclists and walkers overtake you while you are stuck in traffic.
Pros: The Metro is very cheap and fast, this is the desired mode of transport for people getting to work. The Metro has transfer lines which can be used to get back to where you previously were, making it easy for you to correct any mistakes you make regarding direction.
Cons: In the morning, lunch and between 6-7 (when work finishes for most people) the Metro will be chock full of people. The Metro is not advisable for people who like their personal space. If you manage not to get knocked out when people push you in order to get into a train, you will have to endure someone’s body pressed against your side. Plus the smell and heat that occurs when a large collection of people are confined to a small area is atrocious.
Pros: You can breathe in the slightly polluted fresh air and enjoy the sights and smells of China. Walking also allows you to travel on your terms as you won’t be taken to the wrong part of the city via taxi, you can move as slowly or as quickly as you like. Another rather strong pro for choosing to walk as a method of transport is that it is free!
Cons: It may take a while for you to get to where you want to be. If you are walking a long distance, you will get tired and sweaty, and arriving to work or to meet friends in this sort of state is not too pleasant.
There are no rules to follow for when to cross pedestrian crossings, all it takes is for one pedestrian to start crossing and then the dozens of walkers waiting at the crossing will cross the road too. To cross the road safely and efficiently you have to be ready to go with the crowd and be fast but also be weary as many cars will not hesitate to speed right past you if you are the only one crossing.
Pros: Using a taxi is a cheap way to get around and gives you the chance to relax, sit down and switch off. Most taxies will have a business card and if you find a reliable driver you can take their business card and create a beneficial relationship that can help you travel fast and safe.
Cons: Traffic jams will occur often and will slow down your journey. Although it is not costly, it is not as cheap as the Metro or the bus. Many taxis drivers only speak Chinese, so you should have google maps handy. If not, you risk being misunderstood and kicked out of the taxi as the way you pronounce your address will probably sound odd to the taxi driver. This happened to me one night as after what seemed like an eternity of saying my address in different tones and accents I was kicked out of a taxi by a rather annoyed taxi driver.
Pros: A bicycle is quicker than walking, and its size means that you can overtake traffic. It is, in my opinion, the best of both worlds as you can get to places quickly while enjoying the scenery and buzz of city life. You own the bicycle unlike the Metro or taxi; the bicycle is yours to keep and use whenever you want.
Cons: Buying a Chinese bicycle costs around $30-50 which is very reasonable however when you compare it to metro prices which are about $0.50-1 per journey it seems slightly expensive and if you are to qualify the amount spent on your bike you will have to use it for at least a month.
Cyclists get hit on the road (mainly from other cyclists) at an alarming rate in China; when riding your bicycle, you have to keep your wits about you at all times. You don’t only have to watch and take care yourself, but you have to look at other cyclists who go at an alarming speed without paying much attention.
I tried every each one of these modes of transport within the first fortnight in Beijing, and I now prefer and use the bicycle. I would advise trying each form of transport as what transport you like will depend on who you are and what you look for when traveling in a city. Whether it’s speed or the local scenery, only you can decide from this list which transports will suit you best.