Taxi Trouble Solutions in Beijing
The Subway is Great
There’s a lot of great things I can say about the subway system in Beijing. It is extremely cheap, it runs frequently, and since (like most things in Beijing) the signs are written with the Roman alphabet as well as Chinese characters, it’s very easy to navigate. I use it every day to get to work and whenever I go somewhere in the city during the day.
The operative phrase in that last sentence is “during the day.” There is one major flaw I find with the Beijing subway system, and that is its opening hours. If you want to go out at night and then take the subway home, you will have to stop having fun and leave around 10pm, as all trains seem to shut down between 10:30-11:00pm.
Taxis are the Nighttime Option
So, if you’re like me and you want to go for a beer or several with your co-workers after you get off work at 8:30pm, you will have to rely on taxis unless you are within walking distance from your home.
Now, you may be asking, why is that a big deal? Well, aside from the fact that taxis are more expensive than the subway (which is no different from any other city I’ve travelled to), there’s a few things about taking a taxi in Beijing that are different than what I was used to in the US.
Things to Be Aware Of
Typically, in my experience, as long as you have some way to tell the taxi driver where you need to go, they are happy to take you as long as you are polite. However, in China, taxi drivers often don’t want to take foreigners because
- They assume you don’t know where you’re going
- They assume even if you do know, you can’t tell them
It’s the second one that I had a hard time grasping when I first got to China, especially in the days of smartphones with GPS. Everyone in Beijing has a smartphone, and the entire country basically runs on the WeChat and AliPay smartphone apps. In spite of this, the taxi drivers in Beijing will often ask you to tell them how to get there, even though they have GPS. If you don’t speak the language, this is obviously quite difficult to do. Sometimes if you are close and have been there before, you can just point them in the right direction, but if it’s a new place, that can be very hard.
I have been passed by and downright refused rides during my first few months. When my roommate and I were trying to move our suitcases from our hotel rooms to our new apartment, it took nearly an hour to get a taxi to take us there.
Tips for a Pleasant Taxi Experience
Thankfully, I have now figured out ways to ease the drivers’ minds about picking me up and have a few tips for newcomers to Beijing.
Chances are good you won’t be able to tell them the exact address of where you are going, unless you have it written out or translated beforehand. So, know which subway station is closest to where you are going. The majority of taxi drivers in Beijing will be able to find subway stops. Make sure you know the word “subway,” (pronounced dee-tee-ay). For instance, if you need to go to Wudaokou, don’t just tell them that as Wudaokou is a large area. If you tell them to take you to the Wudaokou subway station, it will be much easier for them to know where to take you.
Try to verbally ask them first if you are able, but have a translation ready just in case they need to clarify. Many of them don’t mind reading it on a phone app if you try to speak to them first. It shows them that you know where you are going, and if there are issues when you get close you might be able to use hand gestures to tell them where to turn and stop.
As a side note, know the word “stop” (ting). Once, a taxi driver drove me a good distance past my house, and then I had to walk further home because I couldn’t tell him to let me out. He was probably trying to get extra fare, but ever since I learned how to tell a driver to stop I haven’t had the problem since.
Obviously, the more of the language you learn, the easier time you will have with taxis and all other aspects of life in Beijing. But no one can learn a new language overnight, so if you start off with a few essential phrases and go from there you will be fine.