Beijing Transportation Guide
Beijing, as the capital and a municipality of the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a transportation hub, with a sophisticated network of roads, railways and two major railway stations (Beijing Railway Station or the central station and Beijing West Railway Station) and a major airport. Four completed ring roads encircle a city with nine expressways heading out in virtually all compass directions, supplemented by eleven China National Highways.
One of Beijing's biggest traffic concerns is its ubiquitous traffic jams. Traffic in the city centre is often gridlocked, with rush hour lasting 11 hours a day as of 2006, and smooth traffic only available at night. Topping out areas with frequent traffic jams are the eastern and western 2nd and 3rd Ring Roads, the northern 4th Ring Road, Shangqing Bridge, Jianguo Road, and Xidaokou.
The authorities have attempted several moves to unblock traffic-- with limited success. The police are also in a mood to fine traffic violators. Actual enforcement, however, is spotty. With car ownership soaring, and the authorities not willing to copy Shanghai's method of auctioning license plates to limit road traffic or slapping extra costs, the traffic situation looks serious. With Beijing's relatively large population of Communist Party-connected "VIPs", limited private ownership would prove vastly unpopular. It is ironic that, while the 7th Ring Road is in planning, central Beijing remains a virtual car park during rush hour. Critics point out that Beijing's "ringing" and urban sprawl are major factors in clogged up city traffic. So far, no elevated highways (a la Shanghai or Hong Kong) have been built in Beijing.
Road construction has been maximized, with more new road projects being commenced than ever. Unfortunately, unlike 2003 (which witnessed the opening of the remaining 40% of the 5th Ring Road on time on November 1, 2003), 2004 proved to be a poor year in terms of the Beijing authorities holding their promises on new roads to be opened to general traffic. The Jingcheng Expressway (3rd Ring Road - 4th Ring Road) opened two days behind time (September 30 instead of September 28), and with access to the expressway only on the ring road section heading anticlockwise, and only bound for Chengde, being possible. Meanwhile, the southwestern 6th Ring Road was scheduled to be opened in November 2004, but has been delayed; an inspection of the ring road was concluded in late November, with success, but the road still remains closed as of mid-December 2004. Basic work for the Airport Expressway (2nd Ring Road - 3rd Ring Road) was boasted for completion by December 12, 2004; that, too, was a missed deadline.
One big problem is that public transportation is underdeveloped: the underground system is presently minimal and even buses are jam-packed with people around rush hour. Beijing authorities claim that traffic jams may be a thing of a past come the 2008 Olympics. This is highly doubtful, however, and most Beijing residents expect that the government will merely prohibit nearly all private automobile traffic during the Games. The authorities have introduced several bus lanes where, during rush hour, all vehicles except for public buses must keep clear of the special lanes. Once they are working successfully, however, a different problem emerges with congestion at bus stops -- within bus lanes. As there are no published schedules, order collapses.
Another problem is the driving situation itself. Respect for the law is only settling in slowly. As a result, Beijing drivers may still pull out to overtake in all directions, and some do not bother with the indicator lights. Traffic violations are rife, checked only by the police on duty. Overtaking on the right, a clear violation in nations where driving on the right side of the road is standard, is exerciced with alarming frequency -- even on expressways. Local drivers are inconceivably aggressive; a number of cases of over-irritated drivers resorting to physical violence (road rage) have been reported. Mainland China's rapid economic development also means that the majority of drivers have only recently learned and are unskilled. Driving on Beijing roads is dangerous, especially for beginners.
Roads in Beijing often are in one of the four compass directions (unlike, for example, Tianjin). Additionally, five ring roads (including one partially open), nine expressways, and numerous fast through routes and China National Highways all form an expansive traffic infrastructure around the capital.
Generally speaking, transportation is not a problem in Beijing, with taxis, the underground, and buses readily accessible. Certain parts of the city are congested in the morning and evening rush, especially the central area and the Western district. Lunchtime is the best time to travel as many of Beijing's drivers appear to be off the roads at that time. Taxis are usually easy to find, even in the wee hours of the morning. There can be a problem, however, on rainy days or during extremely cold weather during rush hour. When it snows, it can be very difficult to find a taxi as many drivers are afraid to drive when the roads are slippery.
Taxi flagdown rate is RMB10. Depending on the type of vehicle, though, charges are levied at RMB2 per kilometer after the first 5km. The rate is prominently listed on the windows of the rear doors. Taxis that charge RMB2 are larger sedans and more comfortable -- and safer -- for the larger foreign frames. From 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., the rate is raised to RMB13.60.
Taxi drivers cruising the streets of Beijing are generally honest, but those who frequent hotels tend to wait for long-distance passengers, and may try to take advantage of travelers not familiar with the city, by taking a more circuitous route. Likewise, some taxi drivers who frequent famous tourist sites wait for foreigners unfamiliar with the normal fares and quote excessive prices.
Do not take a taxi unless the driver agrees to use the meter, or unless you are sure of the price and are confident you are not being cheated. When you enter the taxi make sure that the driver puts down the flag and that the meter indicates RMB10. If a driver refuses to use the meter, or says it is broken, get down from the taxi and look for another one. If you have a problem with a taxi driver, the ID number is prominently displayed on the dashboard. Try also to get the license plate number. Complaints can be made to the Beijing Taxi Administration (Tel: +86-10 6601-2620) or the Taxi Management Bureau (Tel: +86-10 6835-1150).
Five taxi firms operating in Beijing have recently introduced 3,000 cabs with special lamps marking quality services. The companies, led by Capital Taxi Co. and Beijing Taxi Co., are assuring people that their drivers won't refuse to take passengers or overcharge.
Drivers of these special taxis are required to wear uniforms and speak politely to passengers. Those who fail to provide acceptable services will be dismissed and their taxi signs removed.
Traffic administration officials said another 12,000 taxis with standardized services will soon operate in the city. At present, Beijing has more than 1,000 cab companies with 67,000 cars and more than 90,000 drivers, handling 12% of Beijing's transport.
The Beijing Subway (Traditional Chinese:Simplified Chinese: pinyin: běi jīng dì tiě) is a rapid transit system that serves Beijing city and its various outlying suburbs. It is a very minimal system given the population and density of Beijing, though expansions are expected by the arrival of the 2008 Olympic Games. The Beijing underground is quite simple to use, with signs at each stop posted in pinyin,
Line 1 runs from Pingguoyuan in the west to Sihuidong in the east. At 31.04 km long, it is the longest east-west subway line in Beijing. It runs beneath the extended Chang'an Avenue and through the commercial districts of Xidan, Wangfujing and Dongdan. Two stops on either side of Tian'anmen make it the only line that runs through the core of Beijing.
Current Line 1 stations are: Pingguoyuan, Guchenglu, Bajiao Amusement Park, Babaoshan, Yuquanlu, Wukesong, Wanshoulu, Gongzhufen, Junshibowuguan, Muxidi, Nanlishilu, Fuxingmen (interchange to Line 2), Xidan, Tian'anmen West, Tian'anmen East, Wangfujing, Dongdan, Jianguomen (interchange to Line 2), Yong'anli, Guomao, Dawanglu, Sihui (interchange to Batong Line) and Sihuidong (interchange to Batong Line).
Line 2 (Loop Line)
Line 2 is also known as the Loop Line. It was first built on the site of the Beijing city wall, and expanded from its south and southwestern parts to form a full loop in the early 1980s. The line is linked to Line 1 at Fuxingmen and Jianguomen, and to Line 13 at Xizhimen and Dongzhimen. Line 2 is 23.61 km long, most of which is beneath the 2nd Ring Road.
Current Line 2 stations are: Xizhimen (interchange to Line 13), Chegongzhuang, Fuchengmen, Fuxingmen (interchange to Line 1), Changchunjie, Xuanwumen, Hepingmen, Qianmen, Chongwenmen, Beijing Railway Station, Jianguomen (interchange to Line 1), Chaoyangmen, Dongsishitiao, Dongzhimen (interchange to Line 13), Yonghegong, Andingmen, Guloudajie and Jishuitan.
Line 13 is 40.85 km in length. It was opened in two sections: the western section until Huoying on September 28, 2002, and the eastern section on January 28, 2003. It is also known as the City Rail Line. Most of the line is above ground, with some sections elevated several meters above street level. It runs between Xizhimen and Dongzhimen, forming a loop that serves the northern suburbs of the city. Line 13 connects to Line 2 at Xizhimen and Dongzhimen.
Most of the line parallels the Beijing-Baotou rail line, except for the eastern section between Beiyuan and Dongzhimen, where it curves onto the Jingcheng Expressway.
Current Line 13 stations are: Xizhimen (interchange to Line 2), Dazhongsi, Zhichunlu, Wudaokou, Shangdi, Xi'erqi, Longze, Huilongguan, Huoying, Lishuiqiao, Beiyuan, Wangjingxi, Shaoyaoju, Guangximen, Liufang and Dongzhimen (interchange to Line 2).
The Batong Line, built as an extension to Line 1, was opened as a separate line on December 27, 2003. The line connects the areas of Bawangfen and Tongzhou District . It is fully above ground, mostly between the westbound and eastbound lanes of the Jingtong Expressway. The Batong Line is 18.9 km long and stretches from Sihui in the west to Tuqiao in the east.
Current Batong Line stations are: Sihui (interchange to Line 1), Sihuidong (interchange to Line 1), Gaobeidian, Broadcasting Institute, Shuangqiao, Guanzhuang, Baliqiao, Tongzhoubeiyuan, Guoyuan, Jiukeshu, Liyuan, Linheli and Tuqiao.
The following lines are being planned or under construction
Line 4 is mostly underground. It is approximately 27 km long and stretches from Longbeicun at the Summer Palace to Majialou in south Beijing. Construction started in 2004. It is scheduled to open on September 30, 2009.
Line 5 is 27.6 km long. It runs from Taipingzhuangbei to Songjiazhuang. Construction started in December 2002. This is Beijing's first north-south line and runs through some important parts of the city center. It is scheduled to open on June 30, 2007.
Line 8 (Olympic Branch Line)
Line 8 is 4 km long and completely underground. It stretches from Xiongmaohuandao to Senlingongyuan, and will serve the new Olympic Park area. Construction started in 2004. It is scheduled to open on June 30, 2008.
Line 9 is 18.3 km long. The first phase stretches from Baishiqiao to Beijing West Railway Station. Line 9 will be extended to the Beijing World Park.
The first phase of Line 10 is 26.2 km long and stretches from Wanliu in west Beijing to Jingsong in southeastern Beijing. It is completely underground, mostly follows the 3rd Ring Road. Construction started in 2004. It is scheduled to open on June 30, 2008. Line 10 will be extended to Songjiazhuang.
Line L1 (Airport Extension)
Line L1 stretches from Dongzhimen to the two terminals (T2 & T3) of Beijing Capital International Airport with a fork near to the airport. It connects to Line 2 and Line 13 (in future will connects to Line 10). Construction started in 2005. It is scheduled to open on June 30, 2008. The line will have a 4 km underground section and 23 km of elevated track.
Line L2 (Yizhuang light rail)
Line L2 is 19.5 km long. It will serve the Yizhuang area to the southeast.
The fare for Lines 1 and 2 costs 3 RMB, and transfer between these two lines at Fuxingmen and Jianguomen is free. The fare for Line 13 costs 3 RMB, and that for the Batong Line is 2 RMB. There's also a ticket valid for one transfer between Lines 1&2 and Line 13 for 5 RMB, and a ticket valid for one transfer between Lines 1&2 and Batong Line for 4 RMB.
Line 13 uses automated ticket gates, while the other lines have employees at platform entrances to check passengers for tickets. Many of the stations that are part of the older lines contain automated gates as part of an early testing phase. However, they were deemed to be inefficient and were abandoned early on.
For users of Beijing's new Yikatong transportation card (One-Card Express), Line 13 accepts them for fare payment. In May 2006 other lines of the Beijing Subway also began to accept the Yikatong card.
There are hundreds of bus routes in the city. There are new, air-conditioned buses, and there are older buses. Bus fares start at CNY 1 per 10km on old buses, and CNY 2 per 10km on new buses.
Buses, meanwhile, can be quite slow and packed with passengers. As taxis are usually fast and inexpensive, with the average ride costing between RMB10 and RMB25, they are highly recommended.
Many expatriates drive in Beijing but a special license is required, which takes a bit of time and effort to obtain. However, driving is quite chaotic here, with accidents quite frequent, and so not recommended for short-term visitors.
Parking is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more Chinese are able to afford cars. In many areas one can pull up on a sidewalk and park a car. There are designated places for parking in many neighborhoods; pay RMB1 or RMB2 for unlimited parking to the attendant who will approach your car as you park your vehicle. Major hotels and some shopping centers offer underground parking for RMB5-RMB10 per hour.
In 1999, the government began to install high-tech parking meters around the city. Insert a coin in the machine and then put the slip of paper that comes out on the dashboard of your car in front of the driver's seat so the parking attendant can verify that you have paid. You can also buy a card for use with these machines at small shops in the vicinity of parking meters. Inquire from nearby shops.
There are a few car rental agencies in China such as Hertz (a branch in Jianguo Hotel on the Jianguomenwai Avenue) or Avis. At any rate, driving yourself around Beijing would be nearly impossible unless you had a Chinese license, which can only be obtained if you possessed a Chinese foreign residence certificate.
Alternatively, it is possible to hire a car and driver for a few hours or on a monthly basis. The average rate for a day within the city is around RMB400, while a trip to the suburbs -- the Great Wall, for example -- can cost RMB600. A car and driver can be hired on a monthly basis for RMB7,000 to RMB9,000 depending on the type of vehicle. Arrangements for hiring cars can be made with most taxi drivers in Beijing, who welcome the opportunity of long-term hires.
A final note: Beijing is one of the best cities for riding a bicycle, with special bicycle lanes in most parts of town. This is often the fastest way to get around the city. Usually there are bikes for rent at major hotels.
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