The Beijing subway is possibly the best way to get around Beijing. There are currently two main lines and one other that goes wandering off through the Northern suburbs; by 2008 there should be five more. The Beijing subway is extremely cheap, very rarely out of service, and the speed puts Beijing’s buses to shame. All this leads to its one disadvantage – horrendous crowds. The two lines you’re most likely to use are Line 1 (The East-West Line) and Line 2 (The Circle Line). The East-West Line runs through the heart of Beijing, past Tiananmen Square, and intersects the Circle Line at Jianguomen and Fuxingmen. The Circle Line follows the route of the Second Ring Road, roughly encircling central Beijing. Line 13 has two interchanges with the Circle Line and meanders away to the North from there. Line 5, due to be completed sometime in 2007, will run North-South through Dong Cheng, the Eastern part of central Beijing, meeting the circle line at Yonghegong and Chongwenmen, and Line 1 at Dongdan.
Beijing taxis are a great way to get around, and mercifully cheap. The rate per km is indicated by sticker in the back window (rates increase 20% at night). A red light on the dashboard comes on when the taxi is looking for a fare. There are often taxi ranks near bus stops, but it is acceptable to wave down a taxi anywhere except at junctions. Beijing taxi drivers are legally obliged to use the meter. Although in theory all drivers are required to pass an English exam, don’t count on smooth communication. It is always recommended that you have your destination written in Chinese to give to the driver.
A complex network of bus routes can take you virtually anywhere in Beijing (or further into every corner of China if you can handle the ride). The busiest routes typically have clean air-conditioned buses but there are still quite a few clunkers on the road. To figure out a route, purchase one of the local maps or have a local friend help you. The days of live chickens and ducks on public buses seem to have come to an end, but you’ll still have to deal with the sardine-packed passenger system at rush hour. You don’t have to worry about your personal safety or getting groped, but you should definitely keep a hand on your wallet or purse.
For decades the bicycle was king in Beijing, and it is still a very good way to get around. Most roads in Chinese cities include an ample bike lane, making it much easier to navigate by two wheels than in the West where city planners don’t consider bikes a standard mode of transportation. The rules of the road for biking are simple. Stay to the right except to pass. When you hear the sound of a car horn or another bicyclist’s bell, get out of the way. Bikes are very cheap in China-in both price and quality. The cheapest models start around $20. Luckily, mobile bike repairmen sit around the sidewalks with carts full of spare tires and replacement parts ready to fix your flat or broken brakes for a few coins while you wait.