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Transportation in China: How to Get Around in China

China is a hot travel destination with multiple cultures, stunning landscapes, and over 3,000 years of history. Convenient public transport in China makes your travel experience run more smoothly. It’s easy to travel around China on your own nowadays.

It’s a pity if you waste too much time on unreasonable transportation, however, such as tour coaches or slow buses. This needn’t be the case as many Chinese cities offer flexible choices on transportation. How you choose your preferred way to travel during your trip is important. Here, we have provided you with the facts, modes, and popular ways to travel in China using public transport.

Facts about Public Transportation in China

  • The coverage rate of the bus network in 24 cities is over 70% while the most convenient cities for public buses include Shenzhen, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Shaoxing, Beijing, Changsha, Hangzhou, Xi’an, and Wuhan.
  • There are metro lines in 33 cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Wuhan, Suzhou, Chengdu, Tianjin, Dalian, Hangzhou, Shenyang, Zhengzhou, Xi’an, Kunming, Changchun, Ningbo, Changsha, Tianjin, Qingdao, Hefei, Nanning, Nantong, Dongguan, Foshan, Xiamen, Shijiazhuang, Zhangzhou, Harbin, Huai’an, Guiyang, and Zhuhai.
  • According to the “Data Analysis Report of Public Transportation in Major Cities in China in 2017”, Shenzhen ranks first in China’s public transport travel service index.
  • The five cities with the highest density of subway networks in China are, respectively: Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Nanjing, and Guangzhou.
  • The average transfer times and distances covered by buses in Shanghai rank first in China.

The Types of Public Transportation in China

Public transport in China varies considerably between different cities, such as Shanghai and Guilin. We have detailed the main forms of public transportation below.

1.  Metro or Subway: Fast, No Traffic Jams, Affordable, and Crowded

beijing metro transit vehicle in motion
Beijing metro

Thirty-three major cities in China have a metro system. Beijing’s, Shanghai’s, and Shenzhen’s metro systems are well-developed and convenient. In the other cities, you can take the subway to get to the main spots in the city center, such as Xi’an City Wall, the Confucius Temple in Nanjing, Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage in Chengdu, the Bund in Shanghai, and the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Without any traffic jams, you can arrive at your destination quickly. China’s metros provide affordable prices ranging from 0.45 to 1.45 USD. The only inconvenient aspect of taking the subway is putting up with the crowds, especially during the peak times (7am to 9am and 5pm to 7pm).

2.  Public Buses: Short Distances, Ample Time, and Cheap

Public buses in the cities are the most common form of public transportation in China. You can find them in almost every city you want to travel to, except for some remote areas, such as Tibet.

You may be surprised to find out that it’s extremely cheap to take the comfortable and air-conditioned public buses, with prices from 1 to 2 yuan (0.15 to 0.25 USD). Just as coins have two sides, the public buses in China are usually slower than the subway and the journey durations are influenced by traffic conditions. Taking public buses can be about three times longer than taking a subway train during the peak times.

3.  Bus Rapid Transit: Fast, Affordable, and Smaller Distribution Area

Compared with common public buses, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is faster due to its successful systems without traffic jams. Cheaper than taking the subway or metro, BRT is popular in China. However, the Bus Rapid Transit’s area of distribution is smaller than other types of transportation. It includes the following cities: Beijing, Hangzhou, Jinan, Changzhou, Xiamen, Zhengzhou, Guangzhou, and Dalian.

4.  Taxi: Convenient, Fast, and More Expensive

Taxi in Guangzhou
Taxi in Guangzhou

Taxis are easy to find no matter whether you are in a small or big city. It’s quite convenient for first-time travelers to take taxis in China. Writing down your destination in Chinese is a must as most of the drivers can’t speak English. Stand on the side of a road and wave to the taxi driver — the car will be stopped if the driver has seen you and he/she doesn’t already have other customers.

The fare depends on a taximeter, although this is not necessarily the case in some small cities. The driver should start the taximeter and you will pay the amount accrued on the meter when you reach your destination. Differing between the cities, fares can start from 5 to 12 yuan (0.8 USD to 1.2 USD) for each meter.

Remember the driver’s name and license plate number to avoid getting into difficulty, such as if you lose your wallet or need to report the driver if you feel you have suffered from unfair treatment.

5.  Bike-Sharing Programs: Short Distances, Inconvenient for Travelers, and Cheap

The purpose of creating the bike-sharing programs was to resolve “the last kilometers” problem of urban transportation. It’s a mode of transportation that links you from a bus or subway station to your destination.

To use one of these bikes, simply scan the QR code, open the lock, and then use it. Chinese people enjoy riding bicycles to save them from having to walk. However, it’s not very convenient for foreign travelers because you have to own a verified account at WeChat or Alipay. Before you can sign up for an account, you must apply for a China bank card.

Travel by taking an electric scooter
Travel by taking an electric scooter

6.  Electric Bikes: Short Distances, Fast, and Flexible

It’s no surprise that electric bikes are popular in China due to the poor traffic conditions during peak periods. They are faster than common public buses although they’re slower than the metro system.

Many small cities, however, don’t have BRT or subways. As an alternative form of transportation, electric bikes are more flexible, cheaper, and faster. This form of transportation is useless for travelers though, unless you want to buy an electric bike even though you are only staying in your destination for a few days.

7.  Motorcycles and Motor-Tricycles

Motorcycles and motor-tricycles are common to see in small southern cities, such as Guilin. The drivers try to use their personal motorcycles to make money without belonging to official organizations.

The price can be discussed with your driver before you accept the transfer, and is usually about 5 yuan for a trip within 3 kilometers and 10 to 20 yuan for further distances. Avoid taking this illegal form of personal transportation unless you have no choice.

8.  Ordinary Trains: Slow, a Wide Coverage, and Cheap

Ordinary trains were the main form of transportation in the past, before high-speed rail became popular in China. In some remote areas, these slow trains are still the main form of transportation due to the wide coverage and cheap prices.

The seats classes are divided into hard seats, hard berths, and soft berths. Soft berths are the most comfortable and cleanest option on an ordinary train. For most travelers, taking an ordinary train takes too long if your time is limited. However, if you want to arrive in another city in the morning, you can travel on an overnight train to save time and money.

9.  High-Speed Rail: Fast, Comfortable, and Interesting

High-speed train in China
High-speed train in China

Many foreign travelers are amazed by how quickly they can travel on high-speed rail in China. It’s a must-do experience when traveling in China. In most of the tourist cities, the high-speed railway network is dense, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an, Guilin, Kunming, Chongqing, and Hangzhou.

Without extra transfer times, such as between a downtown area and an airport, it’s sometimes more convenient to take a high-speed train. With similar facilities to an airplane, it’s comfortable to sit on a train due to the ample space, cleanliness, and Western toilets. Good service and excellent facilities make your trip more enjoyable.

How to Get Around in China?

Which is the most popular form of transportation in China? The answer depends on your different needs and preferences.

The Most Popular Urban Public Transportation

  • Priorities: metro or subway > taxi > bus > BRT
  • Cheap price: bus > BRT > subway > taxi
  • Speed: subway or metro > BRT > taxi > bus
  • Big cities: metro, subway, or taxi
  • Small cities: bus or taxi

The Most Popular Public Transportation Between Cities

  • Cheap price: high-speed trains > ordinary trains
  • Remote areas: ordinary trains
  • Major cities: high-speed trains
  • Time-saving: take an overnight train or take a high-speed train during the day

Our Most Popular Mini Group Tours

We can help you avoid various transport issues when you join one of our mini group tours:

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