Public transport in most Chinese cities is just fantastic: cheap, ready and modern.
Each major city has several metro lines and a dense network of buses such that each city corner can be reached with ease.
And despite all these advantages, (during their obligatory China trip) each Chinese language student should definitely frequently call a cab.
The taxi ride (出租车 – Chū zū chē) is not only comfortable, individual and faster but you can also take place in the front right next to the driver on the premier seat. From there you can (without any risk) enjoy the motley buzz on the street (actually a real insider tip 😛 ).
Calling a taxi is usually done in two ways:
1. You wait on the roadside for a free taxi to pass by (recognizable by the green light: 空车 – kōng chē). Then you wave your hand to signal the need for a ride,
2. you use the taxi app Didi (滴滴出行 – dī dī chūxíng).
The 1st method is pretty obvious but in China not always the best way.
Although there are thousands of taxis in each major city still there are even much much more Chinese people (中国人很多 😯 ). Thus, on weekdays between 9 am and 11 am and other peak times like 7 pm to 9 pm you will very likely encounter a shortage of taxi supply.
Even if you are able to spot a free taxi most drivers will still refuse to carry you to your destination because the distance is too short and they can easily get a better ride.
In such cases, the 2nd method is the much better choice.
Didi is available for iPhone and Android and can be downloaded from the common app stores.
Didi does not require Wechat Pay or Alipay – a normal international credit card (e.g. Visa) will do the job. After having added the payment method to your profile you can start calling taxis.
One disadvantage of the app should be mentioned: For some reason (I do not understand) you are not able to set a marker for the destination. Instead, you have to know the destination address. Luckily, you can also use English or better said Pinyin.
After having entered the correct address you start calling a cab and then you have to wait.
Usually, it takes about 2-3 minutes for a driver to accept a ride. However, during peak times this might easily be extended to 10 or even 15 minutes. But this way you will at least get a taxi.
An be prepared: Chinese taxi drivers (for some reason I still haven’t figured out yet) like to give you a phone call to ask where exactly he has to pick up you. In this case, you really have to use Chinese because so far I never met any taxi driver who could speak English.
Hint: When your taxi arrives do not forget to compare the license plate with the one in the Didi app. Sometimes another free taxi will simultaneously pass along. If the demand for taxis is too low and to get a ride the taxi driver he will just pretend to be the right taxi. And suddenly you find yourself in the wrong taxi.
Why a Chinese taxi ride should be considered a tourist attraction
Whether you are a European or an American, please do not forget: In contrast to your home country riding a taxi in China is frightening and amusing at the same time. Especially during the rush hour.
Traffic rules should be considered as recommendations instead of real rules.
Regular hooting, notorious headlamp flashing, using two lanes and squeezing into any gap that might open up is absolutely normal.
In between countless electro-scooters (sometimes carrying a family of four) as well as mobiles or other electric trikes.
And please, don’t be frightened if you are on the highway and you see people riding their bicycle or, even worse, if they are coming towards you in the wrong direction.
Having survived the trip you can either use your mobile phone to pay (WeChat or AliPay) or you use cash.
Traveling by taxi is remarkably cheap.
However, depending on your location, taxi prices can vary. For instance, cities like Shanghai or Shenzhen have the highest taxi tariffs. But still, prices are much lower than for instance in Europe or America.
Those of you who need a receipt should mention the word “Fa Piao” (发票).
The Fa Piao will be printed by a clattering mini version of a 24 pin dot matrix printer.
Leaving the taxi is often accompanied by a friendly 慢慢走 (màn màn zǒu) which loosely translated means as much as “Take it easy”.
By the way: In China (like it is usual practice there) you should not give the driver any tip.
To eliminate this problem the driver himself will often do a proper rounding up of the amount until it meets his expectations.
A Brief Free Chinese Lesson
Riding the taxi is one of the best opportunities to practice your Chinese. Really!
If a driver notices that a lǎowài (老外) can speak Chinese, he will not uncommonly start himself a conversation.
Typically they will start with common questions like Where are you from? How do like China? Are you married? Do you like Chinese food? How much money do you earn? Etc. etc. (use these opportunities to repeat your knowledge).
Answering one of these questions will usually offer you the anytime welcomed praise: 你的中文那么好! (nǐ de zhōngwén nàme hǎo!) – Your Chinese is so good!
When encountering a grumpy guy take initiative and start the conversation by yourself. Some drivers are just a little shy. Sometimes after having broken the ice those guys suddenly cannot stop talking.
The advantage of starting the conversion is that you can choose the topic by yourself.
But caution: Taxi drivers in large cities like Shànghǎi (上海) of Shēnzhēn (深圳) are mostly from the provinces nearby. That means, that their mandarin (普通话) I soften not the best.
Therefore, don’t be surprised if you don’t understand anything.
Riding the taxi in Shenzhen – Driven by a millionaire in an all-electric car
In one of the world’s most modern metropolis – Shenzhen – nearly all buses and taxis are 100% electric.
The Shenzhen located car company BYD (Build Your Dreams) supplies the city with those distinctive blue-white modern and comfortable vehicles.
The range is about 300 km and a full recharge takes about 2 hours.
A taxi driver in Shenzhen earns on average about 5000 to 6000 RMB per month (about 800€ or $900 USD).
But anyway: Your driver still might be a millionaire. Now how is that? You might ask.
Some local drivers live in an apartment that they bought maybe years ago when housing prices in Shenzhen were still affordable. Now, having one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, those Shenzhen driver’s property has turned into pure concrete gold.
However, they cannot sell it, because they need it themselves to live in.
In order to survive everyday life, they have to drive the taxi several hours a day.
Another additional source of income is sometimes on the front seat installed a massage cushion.
Shortly after the ride has started the cushion inflates itself and massages your back for about 30 seconds. Those who want more of that can now use WeChat or Alipay to buy more of this service.
Alternatives to the normal taxi
Those of you who (for whatever reason) are not willing to or can not to use Didi might want to use the so-called Black Taxis (顺风车 – Shùnfēng chē) instead.
These are usually private persons who drive with their (normal) car on the streets and ask people on the roadside who look like as if they might need a ride.
Although having a distrusting name they can be a good alternative.
Shun-Feng-Ches are usually more expensive and you won’t get any receipt. However, you won’t have to wait that long.
Before getting into the car you should negotiate the price (also because that way you can practice your Chinese).
But caution: Although so far I hadn’t had any bad experiences: These drivers are not always as trustful.
Like with normal taxies most of them use navigation systems to bring you to your destination without making any unnecessary detours.
The ones of you who need even more excitement should try the ride on the back of one of those electric scooters.
They offer a guaranteed 100% “right in the middle”-sensation.
Further, they are the cheapest and also fairly available.
As for the Shun-Feng-Che you need to negotiate the price. Especially Laowais won’t get the cheapest price at first – bargaining will pay off.
Riding a taxi is an absolute must for any foreign visitor in China.
You will gain quite some knowledge of the Chinese mentality and how all day traffic is “regulated”.
But whatever you might think now, riding a Chinese taxi primarily means having a lot of fun.
In that sense: 慢慢走!
Useful sentences when riding a taxi
- 我要发票 – wǒ yào fāpiào – I need a receipt
- 前面100米停车 – qiánmiàn 100 mǐ tíngchē – Stop in 100 meters.
- 这里停车 – zhèlǐ tíngchē – Stop the car here.
- 在十字路口右转 – zài shízìlù kǒu yòu zhuǎn – Turn right at the intersection.
- 在十字路口左转 – zài shízìlù kǒu zuǒ zhuǎn – Turn left at the intersection.
- 现金可以吗? – xiànjīn kěyǐ ma? -Can I pay in cash?
- 在斑马线停车 – zài bānmǎxiàn tíngchē – Stop at the crosswalk.
- 在红绿灯停车 – zài hónglǜdēng tíngchē – Stop at the traffic lights.