Beijing has a transportation problem. There are too many people, too many cars, too little space, and frankly there’s not a whole lot anyone can do about it. This is compounded by the fact that everyone who can afford a car is buying one and doing so at an alarming rate. The only truly reliable way of getting anywhere is the subway which is commendably extensive. The problem here though is that chances are, you or your destination are not necessarily near a subway station. Thus while the trip itself will take about 20 minutes with perhaps 5 minutes of waiting for the train, be prepared to add 10-20 minutes walking time to your total time spent travelling. What’s more, it is continually crowded . Imagine New York’s subway during rush hour; that’s Beijing at all hours of the day. During rush hour, you can’t even count on getting on the first train that arrives. For what it’s worth, people on the subway tend to behave a bit more courteously than those on the bus which brings me to my biggest pet peeve of this city: the buses.
Again, these awful contraptions are crowded to the doors at all hours of the day. What’s worse, these buses are cheaper than the subway by a lot (40 cents vs 2 yuan per ride). Thus you get a lot more people riding them; a lot of people who have no regard for hygiene or personal space (I get it, if I was poor, hygiene would not be a huge priority either but this doesn’t mean I have to like it). There are also at least 3 people who are constantly coughing. On hot days, the air gets so stuffy that I’ve nearly blacked out and of course, there’s the guy who has open wounds all up and down his arm that will reach for the same handhold as you. With the subway, at least you can avoid traffic, buses do not have this luxury. You can expect to average maybe 10 km/h on a good day.
Speaking of traffic, let’s talk about the cars. There are too many of them. So many that you really cannot get anywhere in any decent amount of time driving which leads me to the question: WHY? It is constant gridlock at all hours in this city even with limited driving days (if your license plate ends in this number, then you can only drive on these days). This is truly a shame because taxis are so abundant and cheap that I’d love to be able to take advantage of them should I need to get somewhere fast. Sadly I can’t.
Of course, having all these cars on the road has huge environmental impacts which I’ve lamented about before. The government refuses to call it smog, they refer to it as fog in the face of the acrid smell, lung irritation, and generally disgusting feeling you get from breathing it (I’m on my third respiratory infection at this point for the record). This “fog” limits visibility to a couple of kilometers at best and makes one’s lungs quit before their muscles do which of course brings me to the final mode of transportation: human power.
I wish I could suggest biking as a usable alternative to this otherwise motorized flustercluck of a transportation system but really, do so at your own risk. Beijing is not the bike-friendly city it once was. The once bustling bike lanes have been overtaken by motorcycles, mopeds, buses, and taxis. It is really no longer safe to bike anywhere (polluted air aside). Those that do must master the art of dodging traffic and trying to wrestle right of way from cars that neither see nor care about you (or pedestrians for that matter). Basically, don’t.
After many weeks of commuting to and from the office and other parts of the city, I’ve concluded that there is only one way to get where you want at the time you want to: helicopter.