This is not a topic that I ever would have thought to blog because the idea of discussing transport seems so mundane but on China’s roads there’s never a dull moment!
I experienced a bit of China’s transport system in Shanghai and Guanzhou but not so much because we were there for a short time period so we mainly stuck to cabs and buses as forms of transport and only took the subway when on excursions with our chaperone. However, now that I live here, I’ve gotten to know and use other forms of transport.
Taking cabs is relatively cheap in comparison to Botswana but using them all the time is not really cost effective. An 8 yuan initial charge plus 1.50 yuan per additional km may not seem like much but in the long run you end up spending way too much on cabs. We tend to use cabs when out at night past 9pm (which is when buses stop running) or when we are going to a location we are unfamiliar with because the cab drivers know the city quite well.
Buses are 1 yuan per trip regardless of the distance and 2 yuan in the winter to account for the air conditioner. However buses have to stop at every stop unless there are no passengers waiting to get on and the driver is told no one is getting off. So for the time conscious buses can be very inconvenient and one has to plan to leave early. I favor buses when I am going to locations I know and when I’m not pressed for time.
The most effective mode of transport though is the bicycle. Every road has a bicycle lane which makes it easy to get around. Bicycles are especially good for shorter distances when time is not on your side. They are less tedious than a car; no fueling needed, easy to maintenance, cheap and could help you keep some weight off – but there are electric ones for those who don’t want to feel like they’re in spin class all the time. Bikes are especially ideal in winter for short distance errands since you can ride from your doorstep to the doorstep of your destination, temperatures below 0 make you think twice about walking anywhere. A simple basic brand new bicycle with multiple gears only sets you back 350 yuan while electric ones start from 1500 yuan. The Chinese can spend their whole lives using a bicycle as their main form of transportation and they have a long history with them. They even have accessories that allow you to carry children and others that make it possible for you to use them comfortably during winter. Truth be told if everyone who uses a bike/electric bike got a car, traffic would be horrendous so in a sense it’s ideal for their transport system.
Navigating the roads can be quite tedious mainly due to the number of people present on the road. At any one time there are pedestrians, mobile food stalls at busy intersections, city cleaners, electric bicycles, electric cars, bicycles, cars, cabs and buses on the road. It’s a wonder accidents don’t happen every 2 seconds – especially where bikes and cabs are concerned. Because Baoding is a small city, we don’t have any elevated highways like in the big cities which keep the long distance city traffic separated from the short distance traffic.
They do occasionally have traffic police step in when the traffic gets too heavy during peak hours and they are quite a serious looking bunch. I wish I had a picture of one working to show the degree of seriousness! It’s practically military type seriousness. Botswana traffic police in comparison (and many other African countries I’m sure) tend to be very relaxed and rarely use the standardized traffic signals.
Driving in Baoding is like going through an obstacle course, although traffic laws exist, you’ll hard pressed to find anyone following them. Aside from the traffic lights, everything else is pretty much ignored at will. U turns are done anywhere despite the “do not” signs, literally anywhere. If there is enough space, they do it. Indicating is not really a thing, unless you’re at a traffic light. The sound of a car horn is as frequent as the sound of waves at a beach and they blare so often most people just ignore them. It seems to be used as a warning sign rather than an indication that the driver is angry. Bikes and people use the same zebra crossings so you have to be alert when doing so incase you get hit by a bike. Though bicycles are given a lane sometimes they veer on to the road which vexes drivers. I’ve seen people on bikes (not electric ones only) simultaneously riding and using their phones, a skill which is quite beyond me.
Cab drivers here drive like minibus/combi drivers back home. They are insane. They bob and weave through traffic at speeds no one should be using in heavy traffic and stop anywhere. I was once laughed at by a cab driver for putting on my seatbelt while he insisted in Chinese that I didn’t need it. In another instance, my friends and I had to ask the driver to slow down because frankly his driving speed was making us nervous. But of course this is a generalization, not all cabs are dangerous. Much like cab drivers back home they are also quite chatty. They helped me hone my self introduction skills because they always hit you with a myriad of questions about where you come from and your reasons for being in China. The most english they speak is “hello” so you are forced to use your Chinese speaking skills.
I am yet to use the trains for long distance travel but I already know I shall prefer them to long distance buses which from my few travels on them in Southern Africa, I am fed up with. For all its mild chaos, the transport system works very well and public transport is fairly affordable so travelling within China is not out of reach for a lot of people.