Should you rent a car in BeijingChina>Beijing

When it comes to making transport choices, whether it is roads that are as thick as treacle, crowded subways or streets that are impossible to cross, Beijing really looks as bad as it gets, however you prefer to get around.

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  • No reasons!!! – Beijing car rental is not advised / not usually possible without Chinese licence.
  • See taxi / hiring a car with driver below.
  • Pedestrian perils – the streets in Beijing are very difficult to cross, even if you consider yourself to be a “confident” and agile pedestrian. Be prepared for turning cars to come at you from the left and the right, even when you have a green man. Dangerous traffic violations are a common everyday occurrence in Beijing – far more so than in any comparable city that I have visited. However, this still isn’t a reason to consider driving here!
  • Crowded subway – the subway in Beijing is notoriously crowded, and at peak times you will have to queue to get in to some of the busiest stations. Transfer corridors between platforms can be crowded too, as of course are the trains! However, this is still no reason to really think about any alternative choices. Buses are crowded too, and slow over any distance.
  • You will have a much bigger problem finding a taxi, and even if you do find one, the subway is still going to be far quicker once you get on it!

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  • Superlative subway – Beijing has the busiest single metro system in the world. (The combined systems of Tokyo – Yokohama are busier).
  • The Beijing subway serves all of the major points of interest. It provides comprehensive coverage of the whole city.
  • Buses are also widely available. They are very useful for shorter local trips.
  • The subway and the buses are both extremely cheap to use . Expect to pay around $0.25 per trip.
  • Taxis are widely available and cheap. (But it can be a problem to find one in the rush hour).
  • Most of the places of interest in the city are within the inner circle (Line 2) of the Beijing subway.

Beijing Airport Express

If you do decide to get around the city using just public transport and walking, then it’s still worth bearing in mind that the cheap prices that apply on the buses and subway do not apply on the airport express rail link. Depending on whereabouts in the city you are staying, and the size of your group, it might still be worth just taking a taxi for this particular trip. Remember that the airport rail link in Beijing is nothing special. It’s not a superfast maglev like Shanghai, nor is it particularly well connected with the rest of the city.

Getting out of Beijing / Car + driver

For any kind of travel beyond the city of Beijing, then a hire car or at the very least a car with driver might start to look like a reasonable idea. There is still no need for this if you just want to visit popular tourist sites. In particular, if you just want to go to the most accessible parts of the Great Wall of China, you can do this by tour bus.

Visiting the Great Wall of China from Beijing

Numerous different tour operators will provide day trips to the Great Wall of China from Beijing, typically going to either Badaling or Mutianyu.

Before confirming any booking, make sure you check the language that the tour will be offered in. You might well find agents offering seemingly very cheap trips to the wall from around US$10, but the tour will be entirely in Mandarin, and the tour guide will speak very little English.

James says - a few trip notes:

Now if you are a local Beijing resident, then you are already heavily discouraged from owning a car through heavy taxation rates on first year car registrations. Car ownership is only possible by entering into a ballot where only one in 5 applicants wins.

Beijing’s transport nightmare

So what has this got to do with whether or not to get a rental car in Beijing? Well, as a tourist, you will have to face even heavier restrictions! If you don’t have a local Chinese driving licence (see box text), then there’s no point in even going to the rental desk in the first place. You might expect that all of these very heavy restrictions on car usage would add up to creating a city where it was reasonably easy to get around by other means.

So if we were just assessing Beijing by based on public transport alone, then the city does actually look perfectly respectable. If we were just doing our assessment based on raw statistics, then the fact that is Beijing has the world’s busiest metro system. Beijing also has one of the world’s biggest networks of dedicated bus lanes, with a single journey on either system costing around just $0.25.

The stats don’t paint the whole picture!

This all looks very good, but statistics alone never paint the complete picture. Just try going out of one of the many super heated (in winter) complexes of buildings in Beijing and crossing the road at a busy intersection. Never mind the worry of drivers making right turns, they are coming at you making left turns as well. It feels like this special privilege of owning and driving a car in Beijing gives drivers an entitlement that means that the pedestrian here frankly just doesn’t matter.

The city does have a token urban bike hire programme. But with many cycle lanes acting as impromptu car parks, very few people dare to cycle. For 9 million bicycles in Beijing, read there now being about 9,000 left.

On top of the unpleasant  challenge of crossing the road, Beijing is one of the most heavily polluted cities on earth!

Car or no car? It’s lose-lose either way!

So it goes without saying that any advice we could offer for getting around the city of Beijing itself isn’t going to based on hiring a car. We don’t think this transfers in any way to a suggestion that Beijing is a pleasant place to get around without one. Instead when it comes to transport alone, Beijing feels more like a 21st century transport dystopia. If you really want to feel like you are on the set of Blade-runner, there are one or two buildings that can make you feel just that!

Do you need a car in Beijing? – No, absolutely not!

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Author: Carometer

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