With an extensive and affordable public transportation system, Beijing is an incredibly easy city to get around in. But the subway does close fairly early, making it difficult to stay out in the city for any time past 11:00. And sometimes, you want to get around a bit more quickly. And other times, understandably, you might just want to avoid being packed so closely to other people. For these times, taxis serve as an inexpensive alternative.
I’ve taken many taxis in my time in Beijing, and I’ve found using them to be a pretty simple experience. With some basic Chinese, or even a finger to a map, it’s easy to tell a taxi driver where you’re trying to go. And it’s much less expensive than taxis that I’ve used in other cities. An average 20-minute ride only costs around 50 yuan (about 8 dollars). It’s a convenient service. However, it is not without its faults. And those faults mainly depend on your driver.
Taxi drivers can be very nice people. Usually they’re very excited to have foreigners in their cab. I’ve had one driver even sing me a song as he drove me through the city. Other rides can be more difficult. One well-known reason, is that taxi drivers seem to have the thickest accents of any profession in Beijing. With some, it’s near impossible to understand what’s being said, even with some knowledge of Chinese, which can lead to some confusion. Some taxi drivers are more reluctant to take foreigners to destinations because they don’t seem to believe that a foreigner could give them directions. Other issues have come from the fact that my apartment is in Shijingshan, a district of Beijing that’s a bit of a trip outside of the city center. Plenty of drivers have told me that the drive is too far, and others have admitted to being unfamiliar with the area. I’ve been in a cab before, where my driver drove around aimlessly for quite a while before finally stopping his car, pulling out a map and having me point out the route myself.
In Beijing, each ride in a taxi is a new experience. Often, they are good, but sometimes they can go wrong. Sometimes they’re straightforward, and other times they can be very memorable (for many reasons). Still, it’s something that you will quickly get used to, and it makes an already easy to travel Beijing, even easier.