Get around, round, round…

Aka, transportation in urban China.

On this trip, we’ve tried just about everything. We flew in with direct overseas flights (well, all but one of us), we’ve taken taxis (and have many a story about them, including the one I wrote up in another post), we flew between two cities within China, we took an overnight train with soft sleepers (and lived to tell the tale), we took the bullet (high-speed) train (and wondered why one would design a high-speed route with so many stops), some have already taken (and the rest are about to take) light rail within a city, we’ve all tried city buses, we’ve all taken the subway, we’ve ridden in tour buses, we’ve squeezed too many people and too much luggage into a minivan, and we’ve even take tuk tuks.

Public transportation here seems to be relatively easy, though the language barrier can rear its ugly head. It generally suffers from the same problems as elsewhere–its use is greatly dependent on how close the stops are to where you are.

Taxis, on the other hand… Oh, yes, taxis. They are ubiquitous, but rarely can you find one when you want one. And when you find one, the chance that you have found an honest driver is slim. Yes, taxis are regulated, and they’re always supposed to use their meters. But I had more than one taxi ride here where the meter was either not used, or it didn’t correlate with what the driver expected to be paid. And that’s assuming you could get one to take you where you wanted to go. Very often, driver after driver says that where you want to go is too close. (So what? You get paid, and you’re close to where you want to be to pick up others.) Or, the distance is too far, and they express concern (not in English, mind you) that they will not be able to get another fare coming back. So, they demand a ransom price… Perhaps especially if you stand out as a tourist, which has backfired for many a taxi driver here when dealing with our indefatigable leader. Yes, we have successfully taken taxis, but the process is more full of mines than I expected heading in.

It was frustration with finding taxis that led us to riding in the tuk tuks one evening. That was an experience itself… The frenetic driving in The Chinese cities we visited made riding in one of these more nerve-wracking than the ride I had in a CocoTaxi in Havana on our Cuba trip. That said, as crazy as the streets were to navigate as a pedestrian, I saw fewer accidents than I would expect (the total I observed, in some state, was 3). So, all I’ll say is that I was less nervous than the colleague I shared the tuk tuk with, who I shall leave nameless.

All in all, we did have to get around. And get around, we did, through just about every means possible.

(I will have to come back to add pictures, as I’m not up to getting all of them off of the camera tonight.) 


2 Responses to “Get around, round, round…”

  1. 1 Martin Tracey
    May 29, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Makes me wonder about other domains, in addition to taxi driving, where there may not yet be social or legal institutions to encourage fair dealing. There are rogue drivers in Chicago too, of course, but not nearly such a large percentage, it seems. Perhaps this owes in part to the fact (or at least my imagination of the likely fact) that large-scale taxi usage is a relatively new phenomenon in China, whereas its been established for many decades in the U.S. …

  2. May 30, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Cheryl, I think the taxi drivers do a lot of profiling of customers, so I totally understand the frustration, esp. Steven’s. When I left the Xi’an Ibis for the airport (that longish 45-min drive), the driver took me for a native, quoted me 120 rmb off the bat (vs. the 180 rmb we paid coming in from the airport or the 200 rmb another group paid), and proceeded to converse with me in the provincial dialect for the next 15 minutes until he realized I was not a local! So, yes, there is definitely a problem concerning taxi fare regulation or the lack thereof.

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