I’ve been to Beijing three times as a tourist, and here are some lessons I have learned from at least a hundred different taxi rides.
If you speak Mandarin, you might consider buses, but otherwise take a taxi. The subway travels such a short distance that it is rarely useful.
I recommend taking taxi cabs. If you have your destination written in Chinese, then the driver should be able to find the place, especially if it’s a main tourist attraction. Your hotel will furnish business cards so you can get back to the hotel by cab. They can also write your destinations for you on a card.
The first thing to let you know is that My experiences were all positive except with one annoying cab driver. Let me tell you about that one first. When my wife and I arrived at one of the Beijing train stations, we caught a cab which was waiting at the taxi stand. The man was friendly, but I had traveled around Beijing enough to realize that he was traveling across town in a round about fashion instead of straight towards our destination. It meant twice as many miles and therefore an increased fare. My wife is a Mandarin speaker and we raised some objections and he said he was avoiding some traffic jams. When we got to the hotel, we said we needed to go to the front desk and get some change. At the desk we told the hotel manager about our ride in front of the driver and we just paid what the fare should have been. The manager asked us if we wanted to call the cops who look down on this sort of thing and we declined. The police are very strict about tourist rip offs and can put people in jail or take away licenses permanently so we are careful not to put someone in this position.
All the other rides I have taken were without incident. Almost all of the drivers want to ask questions and they will entertain questions directed at them. Of course, most of them can’t speak very much English.
One ride was especially memorable. We took a cab to get to a train station once and when we got to the station, we found out that the station was closed for remodeling so our train was actually leaving from another station about 2 miles away. Our driver was trying hard to get us there in time. He made a right turn into the parking lot which was against the law for some reason. The policeman, who was directing traffic indicated to us that the driver was getting a ticket which was around $20. I couldn’t tell from the policeman’s gestures, but the driver and my wife could tell that the ticket was in fact given out and the policeman was writing on a tablet as we drove by. Then we entered the parking lot. When we hopped out we offered to give the driver an extra $20 to cover the ticket and he refused. We had about a 30 second argument until finally we got the driver to reluctantly take the extra $20. When we entered the train station we could hear our train pulling away, so we almost made it. After a 1 hour wait, we caught the next train. I was impressed in general by the honesty and generosity of the Chinese.
To catch a taxi is so simple. One way is just to stand by the curb and often a cab will even make a U-turn if necessary to ask you if you want a ride. The real way, however, is to just wave your hand a little. The fare is written on the window. If it isn’t there, this may not be a licensed taxi. We only had that happen to us once and we just declined to get into that cab. The driver’s license number is displayed on the dashboard and if you have any problems, just write that down for use later.
If a driver acts bored or tired, remember that most of them are leasing their cab for two years and they barely make a profit. The ones we talked to visit their families if they happen to have a fare which takes them to that end of town. Otherwise they go home every three days or less and sleep and eat in their cab. It’s almost a 24/7 job. Many of them say that they won’t sign a lease again after the two years is up because they make so little money.
I found taxis to be a safe, convenient way to get around Beijing.