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Subway vs. bus in Beijing and awesome Sogou maps app

2012 August 8

Beijing’s subway system, looks like a mutant octopus being fried up on a rotisserie spit

During my first week of work in Beijing, I had to commute for four days from my conveniently located hotel in Jiaodaokou (交道口) to Xitucheng (西土城), near the beginning of the university district where the China National Institute of Standardization (CNIS) is located (exciting, I know). My first day I chose to take the subway and ended up being late. I was just a five minute walk from the subway stop and only had to go four stops on Line 5, switch lines, and go five stops on Line 10. Given that each stop only takes two minutes, this journey should have been completed in 30 minutes. It took me an hour during the morning rush hour though! Beijing’s subway has grown out like a mutant octopus, every year growing new arms connecting more suburbs. The problem is that it is not growing many new business centers. Most people still commute to a handful of main business districts for work. So if you connect more commuters and they’re all going to the same place, things are going to get really crowded around 8:30am! So, I got stuck in the pushing and shoving mess, and had to wait in line to let three full trains pass, before securing a terribly squeezed space on a line 10 train. Not a pleasant experience, even for a seasoned Beijing laowai.

搜狗地图 Sogou maps app: subway route vs bus route

The great thing about Beijing is that there’s always another way. I used to use Sogou’s map site (a popular search engine in China) to dig out bus routes, in the days when Beijing only had three lines of subway. Now Sogou has an iPhone app which is very well designed. I typed in my start and end points, and it suggested the subway route or a bus route (635, which coincidentally is also a great route for getting from Drum Tower to Sanlitun) as an alternative. I took the bus next day, and got to my destination in 30 minutes. You’ll see the comparison of subway (left) vs. bus (right) routes above. I couldn’t believe we didn’t get stuck in traffic, but such is the occasional magic of Beijing. Better yet, I got a seat on the bus and it wasn’t crowded at all; and the bus wound through the still charming streets around the Drum Tower for the first 15 minutes. Even better yet, it only cost CNY 0.40 ($0.06) as opposed to the still ridiculously cheap subway which only costs CNY 2.00 ($0.31). Also, I didn’t have to march down all the stairs to the station and put my bag in the useless x-ray machine. The end result: a much less sweaty and significantly more sustainable John arriving at his CNIS destination. 😉

Sustainable John visits the China National Institute of Standardization

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