HRG 2015: One Card to Rule Them All – Take a ride by subway, bus, taxi, or bicycle

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There are over five million cars on Beijing’s roads, contributing more than 30 percent of the city’s air pollution. Heavy traffic and poor air quality are powerful incentives to check out the city’s extensive public transport network; it’s cheaper and often quicker. Read on to find out how to get started.

The yikatong (一卡通), which means “one-card pass” in Chinese, is a transit card similar to London’s Oyster Card and Hong Kong’s Octopus Card. You can use it for all of Beijing’s public transport options: subway lines, the airport express, city buses, taxis (technically anyway), and shared bicycles.
Cards can be purchased at around 200 locations in Beijing, including most subway station counters, some bus stations, supermarkets such as Jinkelong, and China Post branches. Technically, you rent rather than buy the card, paying RMB 20 as a deposit. You can then charge the card with credit, with a minimum top-up of RMB 10 and a maximum top-up of RMB 1,000. Add credit at any of the recharge machines (instructions are available in English) or ticket counters located inside subway stations.
Hang onto your yikatong; because you don’t need to register your ID to purchase one, the balance cannot be refunded or transferred if the card is lost or stolen. Cards can also be used at some phone booths, fast food restaurants (including KFC, Yonghe King, and McDonald’s), and stores (such as Wal-Mart, Wu Mart, and Jingkelong).

Beijing Subway’s 18 lines carry the most passengers in the world, averaging more than nine million trips per day. As much as possible, avoid riding the subway during the morning and evening rush hours (7am-9am, 6pm-8pm), when carriages are generally packed beyond capacity and line transfers are lengthy and occasionally
In 2015, fares switched from flat rate of RMB 2 per journey to a distance-based fare, ranging from RMB 3 to a maximum fare of RMB 8 for a single journey. You can look up fares in advance at ticket machines within subway stations or on the Beijing Subway website.
To enter or exit the subway, swipe your card across the turnstile sensor pad to open the gate. Children under 1.3m accompanied by a paying adult can ride the subway for free, but you’ll have to approach a subway guard to let you into the system.
You can also buy single-journey tickets from ticket counters or ticket machines, which take small bills and coins and have an
English interface. In this case, to exit the subway you need to insert the single journey ticket into the turnstile.

Airport Express
If you live near the Airport Express’ two city stops (Dongzhimen and Sanyuanqiao), it is by far the best way to get to Beijing Capital
Airport. Fast and reliable, it runs from 6am-10.30pm from downtown to Terminal 3 in 20-25 minutes, with Terminal 2 an additional 15-20 minute ride. The fare is a flat fee of RMB 25 with the same swipe-in-and-out system as the subway. Single-journey rides are also available.

Fixed fares for buses were phased out in 2015 and distanced-based rates were changed to RMB 2 for the first 10 km and an additional RMB 1 for each 5 km thereafter. Customers with a yikatong get a 50 percent discount, with a starting fee of RMB 1 per journey.
As with the subway and Airport Express, commuters must normally swipe their card both when boarding and disembarking the bus. On regular buses, board at the front by the driver and disembark at the back. On accordion buses, board at the middle and get off at the front and back. Swipe your card against the card reader just inside the doors; it will beep and show your current balance.
If you don’t have a yikatong, you’ll need to explain to the ticket clerk or driver where you plan on getting off, give exact change, and show your valid paper ticket at your journey’s end. Children below 1.2m who are accompanied by a paying adult ride for free. Again, the buses are best avoided at peak hours.

A word of caution: if you intend on using your yikatong to pay for a taxi, make sure to square this with your driver upfront. Many
drivers don’t like this payment method and some may demand cash or claim their machine is broken when you get to your destination. Otherwise, it’s as simple as handing the driver your card, which they’ll swipe to deduct payment.

Bicycles and Beijing are synonymous, but their numbers have been dropping year-on-year – a trend that municipal transport authorities hope to reverse. Beijing’s public rental bicycles will total 50,000 by the end of 2015. Bikes are free of charge for the first hour and RMB 1 per hour thereafter, with a maximum charge of RMB 10 per day for the first three days and RMB 20 per day after that.
Bike rental is the only yikatong service that requires registration: you need to be between 18 and 65, and bring your card (with at least RMB 30 in credit), your passport with residence permit, a copy of the permit, and RMB 200 deposit to one of the registration offices. Registration offices include Dongzhimen subway station (exit A) and Jinsong subway station (exit A). A complete list of registration offices (in Chinese only) can be found at Registration forms are also only in Chinese.
Find the map of all docking stations at or scan the QR code to the right to follow Public Bicycle in Beijing on WeChat. Swipe your card and remove the bike within 30 seconds, otherwise it will re-lock to the docking station and you will need to call the local hotline to retrieve it. The Chaoyang hotline is 400 088 7806 and the Dongcheng hotline is 400 157 7157.

This article originally appeared in the 2015 beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide. Click here to read the issue for free on To find out how you can get your own copy, email

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