Transportation in Beijing via taxis is convenient and relatively cheap if you can get around the traffic. However, newcomers might shy from hailing taxis on their own due to the language barrier (the prospect of having to speak Mandarin), or a fear of being rejected by a cabbie (due to his fear of having to speak English). Fortunately, taxi and car hailing mobile apps have become more commonplace. In this guide, we outline the basics of taxis and the most foreigner-friendly private car hailing apps in Beijing.
If your phone is out of battery, not set up for payment, or you just don’t want to try to speak Mandarin over the phone, a normal taxi will do just fine. Beijing taxi rates start at RMB 13 (RMB 14 between 11pm-5am), then RMB 2.30 per km (RMB 2.80 per km at night, RMB 3.5 after 15km). Most drivers do not speak English — you’re lucky if they speak standard Mandarin — and many are illiterate, in case you’re wondering why they get angry when you stick an address in their face. So sometimes it helps to prepare your own GPS using Baidu Maps, or at least a map with your intended location. It might be worth investing in a “taxi book”, which has lists of destinations with their addresses in Chinese characters and Pinyin. The newer versions have maps too, and there’s even an app for i-Phone, called Beijing Taxi-Book. Drivers tend to know major street names and landmarks such as tourist sites, but if you do encounter a clueless driver, try suggesting a nearby subway station to keep him on track. Be warned that taxis might smell of third hand smoke! They usually only take passengers from the right side (for safety reasons), and most do not have seat belts (so don’t bother with the child car seat). If you travel far, or use an expressway, the incurred toll fee will be added to your total cost (usually RMB 5-10) and you will receive the receipt for it. If you prefer ordering a taxi the traditional way (for a RMB 5 tip), then call 96103 and press 8 for English service.
Since its 2009 launch in San Francisco, Uber has been connecting riders to drivers in hundreds of cities across the globe. You can easily create an account online or download the Uber app on iOS, Android, or Windows phones. Uber is especially popular among foreigners in Beijing thanks to its English interface, the fact that you can use the same Uber account in all your travels (I use mine from the US), and its ability to link foreign credit cards for payment. Much like Didi, different service levels are available: People’s Uber is the carpool option offering seating up to four people; UberX is the mid-level option with slightly better cars; UberBlack is the premium option with luxury cars such as Audi and BMW; and UberXL consists of SUVs and mini-vans for large parties (or if you just have a lot of stuff).
How to use:
1. Once you’ve got your account set up (with payment methods and phone numbers), all you have to do is connect your GPS and drop the pin on your requested pick up location.
2. A rate will pop up if surge pricing is in effect (rates rise during peak hours or holidays as an incentive for drivers), shown in 1.25x format, which you will have to acknowledge and accept before proceeding.
3. On the map, you’ll be able to see the number of Uber cars in the area and how long it will take for the nearest one to arrive. Unlike with other car hailing apps where the drivers fight for your “order”, Uber assigns drivers orders, so sometimes you will be assigned a driver who’s farther away than the closest driver and wait times are inconsistent.
4. Tap the arrow next to “Set Pickup Location” to order a car. Specifying a destination is optional, though often useful since many Uber drivers aren’t native to Beijing; a suggested route will pop up on the GPS screen.
5. The driver will call to confirm your exact location. You will see the driver’s photo, color and make of the car, and car license number on your screen once your ride is confirmed.
Payment methods: Uber accepts Alipay, Visa, and Mastercard. The fee is automatically deducted after each ride.
Verdict: Uber is a favorite with many families as taxis have a reputation for avoiding parties with strollers. In our experience, Uber drivers are friendly and their cars are clean, due in part to Uber’s usage rating system. Some cars even offer free bottled water, Wi-Fi, or phone charging stations. Since Uber and Didi are in direct competition, Uber also gives out special discounts and vouchers regularly, reducing the cost of your ride. But…
Warning: Uber has a history of being targeted by the Chinese government over legality issues. As a result, Uber cars are subject to police scrutiny, and drivers avoid certain pick up and drop off locations, such as airports, train stations, and tourist spots (e.g. Jingbao Jie in downtown Dongcheng is often hit). If you’re traveling with children it can be distressing to be stopped by the police.
Dididache (Didi) 滴滴打车
Dididache, previously a taxi ordering service, merged with Kuaidi Dache (private driver service) in 2015 and has been providing us with everything we could possibly ask for in a car hailing service in one app. The app is not only available on iOs, Android, and Windows interfaces, but has also been added into the WeChat platform, allowing users to order a car even without downloading their app. The only caveat to the app is that it’s in Chinese, but it’s easy to figure out, and this is scheduled to change at the end of the year now that Dididache (Didi) has merged with Lyft, an American cab-hailing company.
How to use Didi on WeChat:
(note, you’ll need an active WeChat Wallet – for more information see p24)
1. Click on the “Me” tab
2. Click on “Wallet” and you’ll see the option to “Order a Taxi” once you scroll down
3. Allow the app to find your location (click “OK”)
3. Fill in your locations (to and from)
4. Enter tip amount (optional)
5. The driver will call you to discuss the pick up
If you don’t want to pay via WeChat wallet, you can always pay cash and still get a receipt (fapiao), making it easy to order taxis for other people.
How to use the Didi app:
1. When you open the interface, select the type of service you want: Chūzūchē 出租车 (normal taxi), Kuàichē 快车 (private drivers), Zhuānchē 专车 (VIP version), Pīnchē 拼车 (carpool), or Dàijià 代驾 (driver drives your car for you)
2. Input pick up location by tapping into your GPS.
3. Input drop off location.
4. Wait for driver to call you.
5. Pay via app (unless it’s a legit taxi, in which case you could pay cash).
Payment method: Cash for licensed taxis, WeChat Wallet, and Alipay. Normally you have to go in and manually “pay” for the ride (and you won’t be able to request another ride until you’ve cleared your debts), but you can also set up “automatic payment” which will deduct as soon as the driver taps the arrive button. For company reimbursement purposes, if you do not pay cash or you use Didi private car services, you can request receipts to be sent to you for free if the fare is above RMB 200.
Verdict: Didi is the most convenient way to order a licensed taxi without having to add a tip. Since you’ve already inputted GPS locations and addresses, it also does not require much communication with the driver. The Kuàichē function is significantly cheaper, especially since Didi regularly gives users vouchers and coupons. While Kuàichē cars can be domestic, or even electric, Zhuānchē has higher standards where drivers are often professional chauffeurs working on the side. Pīnchē is the cheapest option of all as it is a legitimate carpool, but can be a slower alternative due to pitstops.
Prefer to just hail a cab? If possible, have the Chinese address handy. At first, it’s helpful to have a contact number for someone who can guide the driver if necessary. Here are some useful phrases:
• I’m going _____. Wǒ qù _____. 我去 _____。
• How much? Duō shao qián?多少钱？
• We’ve arrived. Dào le . 到了。
• Turn right. Zuǒ zhuǎn/guǎi. 右转／拐。
• Turn left. Yòu zhuǎn/guǎi. 左转／拐。
• Please give me the receipt. Qǐng gěi wǒ fāpiào. 请给我发票。
• Where are you going? Nǐ qù nǎr? 你去哪儿？
Photo: BFISHADOW and POELOQ (Flickr)
This article originally appeared on pages 52 and 53 of the 2016 Home and Relocation Guide. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.