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Because Beijing is a huge city, necessity has forced it to develop fast and efficient forms of public transportation. With the 2008 Olympic Games, the subway system was extensively improved and extended. There are three main forms of public transportation: subways, buses and taxis (see separate article on taxis).
The Beijing subway has been extended over recent years and it is planned to be the largest in the world. The subway system is an excellent inexpensive (2 RMB single journey ticket) option for getting around. It is fast and convenient with English signage and announcements and most stations have self serve ticketing machines. It connects with the Airport Express train, which begins service at 6am, and there is also a surburban rail link which extends out to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. All the major mainline railway stations are serviced by the subway. The subway system runs from about 5am to 11pm daily. The subway can get very crowded during peak hours but trains run frequently. The carriages have seats for 60 and standing room for 200. A detailed map of the subway lines is available at Wikipedia. There is also a teriffic interactive map to be found at http://www.explorebj.com/subway/ which will also display fare cost & travel times as well as station information. Google map also shows the subway lines and stations and station exits.
There are thousands of buses operating in Beijing with hundreds of routes, so getting almost anywhere within the city limits, as well as reaching suburban areas is possible. Buses are generally crowded as they are the cheapest form of public transport. Getting a seat is sometimes impossible so get ready to squeeze in and stand. There are double decker buses for the popular inner city areas. The bus service is not timetabled as such, so make sure to bring lots of patience along for the journey, but buses are usually quite frequent. They run from about 5am to 11pm daily; the times of the first and last buses from the termini (not the bus stop) are displayed. However, most of the information is written in Chinese which makes bus travel less appealing to tourists. Buses are quite modern, some have a conductor - some don't, but most have automated announcements of station stops in both Chinese and English. It is uncommon for place names to be translated into an English equivalent, though. One can find which bus to use by using Google maps. Bus stops are shown on the map when zooming in. Buses between 2 points can be found using the "directions" function. For some buses the fare depends on the distance which makes it difficult for a tourist to buy the right ticket from the bus operator. This is not an issue if you have a swipe card.
Apart from buses to the Great Wall at Badaling (877 from Deshengmen watchtower), there are a few city bus routes that are very useful for tourists. 专1 is special route circling around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. This is an excellent and easy way to get from the north exit of the FC back to the Qianmen area. There are also a couple of handy trolleybus routes with a flat fare of 1rmb cash. Trolleybus 107 runs between Dongzhimen and Baishiqiao East (next stop past Beijing Zoo). From Dongzhimen, it travels west through Ghost Street restaurant area (Dong nei xiao jie station) and all the way along to the Drum Tower (Gu lou station) where it turns south before continuing west between Beihai Park and Qianhai Lake (Bei hai bei men station). Eventually it turns north before resuming its westward trek and calling at the zoo (Dong wu yuan station). Trolleybus 124 provides a convenient way to get from the north entrance of the Forbidden City (Gu gong station) to either the Qianhai/Houhai Lakes area (Di an men wai station) or Drum Tower (Gu lou station) by skirting around the east side of Jingshan Park before continuing north. Details of these routes, including a map, can be found at http://www.bjbus.com/home/index.php
Other important routes include the number 5 bus, which is a useful way to return to Tiananmen Square or Qianmen from the west gate of Jingshan Park (it originates from Beitucheng subway station and calls at Deshengmen and the Drum Tower), and the 特11 double-decker is a direct way to get to the south gate of Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) from the bottom of Wangfujing Street. Anyone interested in travelling to the Fragrant Hills or Botannical Gardens is advised to use bus 331, which can be boarded at either the east or north gates of the Summer Palace; it's city terminus is close to Jishuitan subway station (Xinjiekou) - but that's a mighty long bus ride! If you wish to save your legs after visiting the Lama Temple, hop on bus 13 across the street for half a dozen stops to Luo gu xiang station, which is about 100m short of the southern end of Nanluoguxiang, or stay on for another couple of stops to Bei hai bei men station if visiting Beihai Park or the Back Lakes.
It is possible to buy a swipe card (20rmb) for public transport called the 'Yi Ka Tong' at subway stations and bus stations and preload it with cash to save time (minimum 20rmb). Single subway tickets can only be purchased for the impending journey and are only valid from the originating stations so you cannot stock up with these in advance. For flat-fare buses there is no need to swipe the card when alighting. With a swipe card a 1rmb bus journeys cost only 0.4rmb! They can also be used in taxis but you must inform the driver before he switches off the meter. There are no discounts for using swipe cards on the subway or in taxis. Certain supermarkets and convenience stores also accept payment from this card.