The 5 Best Things About Taxis in China

In our day-to-day lives, we all have places to go and people to see. Many of us drive our own car, while some of us take public transportation, such as the subway or the bus. Those who are especially motivated (or have no other choice) will bike or walk.

But very few of us will actually hire a taxi to take us to our desired destination.

Photo courtesy of dnc via Compfight cc

However, in China, taking a taxi isn’t simply one of many options. Sometimes t’s actually the best option. Sometimes it’s the only option.

I personally love taking taxis here. Alhough you could choose to ride the bus (or take the subway if you’re in one of China’s bigger cities), there’s just something special about having your own personal chauffeur, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

But that’s not the only reason why you should consider taking a taxi.

Here are five more.

Taxis are ridiculously cheap.

This just might be the number one reason why I love taking taxis here. Depending on the size of your city, the starting fare will be somewhere under 15 RMB, which is less than 3 USD. Because I live in one of China’s smaller cities, our taxi rates start off at only 5 RMB. I know, life’s rough sometimes.

Last week, I took a 30-minute taxi ride from our apartment to the airport for a mere 30 RMB! For comparison’s sake, a ride of equal time and distance would cost about four or five times as much in Hong Kong (where I lived prior to moving to the mainland).

You can catch a taxi even if it’s already occupied.

Normally you can tell if a taxi is vacant by a small round sign that’s lit up inside the vehicle. If the sign is pushed down (and you can’t see it anymore), it means the taxi has already been hired. But sometimes taxi drivers here will leave up their “for hire” sign even if they already have a passenger inside!

I’ve noticed this is especially the case in the late afternoon during rush hour. If you happen to flag down one of these taxis, the driver just might let you in, but only if your destination is close to where the first passenger is going.

This happened to my wife and I once when we were in a taxi on the way to a friend’s house. Along the way, our driver picked up a young boy that was going to the same neighborhood. He even tried to get the boy to speak English for us!

It gives you a legitimate reason to stand in the middle of the street.

Have you ever had the urge to just walk into the middle of a busy street and claim the space for yourself? No, it’s just me, you say? Maybe I’ve been living here too long.

Even though crossing the street here is like a living version of Frogger, you will quickly learn how to recognize car speeds so that you can get across unscathed!

If you’re on a particularly big road, however, you may have to stand several meters away from the curb in order for taxis to notice you. Especially if you’re trying to catch a ride home late at night and there are lots of other people trying to catch taxis. You’ve got to stand out from the rest of the crowd and this is one way to do it.

It is the quickest way to get from point A to point B.

When inside a taxi, you are almost guaranteed to be faster than every other car on the road – even during rush hour. Why? Because when it comes to navigating through traffic, taxis typically take the path of resistance.

This means your driver will probably speed up in order to get around everyone else. I’ve been in several taxi rides where the driver crossed over the solid yellow line (the one that separates you from oncoming cars) in order to get past slower moving cars.

Though this may not be the safest way to get around the city, it’s definitely the fastest!

Taxis are lifesavers if you’re ever lost.

It’s very easy to get disoriented when you first come to China. It took me over a month before I figured out where my apartment was in relation to all my usual hang-out places. Many streets look similar, especially if you can’t read any of the storefront signs. Buildings have a way of looking the same when you’re in a foreign city.

But if you’re lost, do yourself a favor and hire a taxi. All you need to know is the name of your destination, and voila – you’re no longer lost!

Just make sure you know how to say it, or at least have someone write down the address in Chinese characters to show the driver. Otherwise you might end up at a very different place from where you wanted to go. I sometimes will clarify the location just to make sure this doesn’t happen!

What’s your preferred method of transportation? Do you enjoy playing Frogger in real life like I do? What have your taxi ride experiences been like?

13 thoughts on “The 5 Best Things About Taxis in China

  1. I found this post very interesting. You’re certainly talking up taxis, and I’ve rarely every heard anyone do that. In fact, I think you’re the first πŸ˜€ I have never been to China before, so can’t comment on the taxi experience over there. But from your post, I get the impression taxi drivers in China mean well and are always trying their best to serve customers.

    In Malaysia, taxis are quite cheap too and you do have to wave your arms quite a bit to get their attention. But taxis in Malaysia freak me out. Most drivers I’ve encountered don’t say much. I will get in, tell them where I want to go, they nod and then silently starting driving. It’s creepy – are they really going the right way?

    A few times in Malaysia I’ve gotten out of a taxi because it was obvious the driver was going around in circles (we were passing the same buildings or going in the opposite direction), even though he said to me he knew where we were going. My prefer method of transportation in Melbourne? Walk or tram. Don’t mind trains too if they run on time and don’t get cancelled at the last minute.

    • Thanks, Mabel! It’s really hard to complain when the taxi rides are so cheap. But double the price and you might hear a different story from me next time. πŸ˜‰

      Maybe the taxi drivers in Malaysia are just quiet people? Or perhaps you scare them with your intimidating presence. πŸ˜‰ Haha. I actually consider it a compliment whenever taxi drivers here don’t say anything to me. If I get in a taxi and they guy just drives off without a word, it usually means he understood my directions – which means my Chinese was comprehensible! This equals success in my books.

      Whoa, does that happen often to people in Malaysia? Taxi drivers trying to pull a fast one on their passengers? I’ve thankfully never had that happen to me, even it’s usually very obvious to the taxi drivers here that I’m a foreigner.

      You guys got trams? Awesome! I rode one for the first time when I moved to Hong Kong. Though my wife and I usually refer to them as the “ding dings.” Hehe.

      • Ah, I must be scary looking or intimidating because people don’t generally approach me πŸ˜‰ There’s a general distrust of people in the air in Malaysia. Maybe that’s one reason taxi drivers are quiet – they’re afraid of copping verbal, maybe physical, abuse from passengers.

        Of the few times taxi drivers did speak to me, they did so before I got in the vehicle – haggling a fixed rate for the journey as opposed to calculating the fare by the metre. Which of course, is illegal but…it’s Malaysia…

        Yup, Melbourne has trams in the city and inner city suburbs. On summer nights I open my window, and I hear the soft “dings dings” as I fall asleep πŸ™‚

  2. I totally agree! And it’s so easy to hale taxis in China, just raise up your arm anywhere and you can get a ride (at least in Shenzhen, other big cities I assume although mostly I can compare to Guangzhou which is not as good as SZ. Hong Kong, by the way, is different and there they follow ‘laws’ and only stop and official taxi stands. Where are you in China?)

    Oh, and another advantage is you get to practice Chinese with taxi drivers πŸ™‚

    • You’re right – Hong Kong is totally different from mainland China. Taxi drivers there actually follow more rules than their mainland counterparts, although they do tend to be VERY lax with the seatbelt law.

      Right now I’m living in Sichuan province in a small city near Chengdu. I’m pretty sure it’s considered a third-tier city. What about yourself?

      Thanks for mentioning that additional advantage! It totally slipped my mind. Taking taxis is an awesome to practice your Chinese. I’m currently trying to have similar conversations with different drivers in order to improve my speaking/listening skills. So far it’s working, I think!

    • That’s definitely a possibly. Ours is a pretty small city with “only” a million people or so.

      One way to see if taxi drivers do it in your city is to look for ones that keep the 空车 sign up (so it’s lit and visible), but have a passenger inside. Then you’ll know that they’re the ones looking to make an extra few kaui!

  3. I really prefer taxis over bus or metro. This is mostly due that the buses are just too full Everytime I have to use them and the metro system in xi’an is still pretty poor.

    The taxi drivers are mostly so talkative, however I am usually going with my wife and her mother so they do the talking and I can watch in peace at the beautiful grey concrete scenery.
    Sometimes in c an be hard to catch a taxi, especially when they have their shift change so they only take passengers who go to the same direction

  4. Back in the days of business trips to asia I recall that taxis in Taiwan were always fun (and always everywhere, careening about) : drivers didn’t want to run the A/C (to save gas), so my host/translator would have to tell the taxi driver I was an American (and therefore needed A/C) – the driver would flick on the A/C and musty, dusty air would blast out (yuck). I was never clear to me whether I should tip because of this…

    • Sounds like the drivers didn’t want to run the air con to save their lungs! Haha. Thankfully, we haven’t had that sort of experience in taxis here yet. But I’ve been in some restaurants where the air con blew out musty lukewarm air. Not so fun!

  5. I remember how my friend (Aussie from Shanghai) put a group of fellow students in taxis and told the taxi drivers where to go. She was the last one to grab her own taxi and told him the same meeting point. I’m not sure, but because she was native looking and sounding, she was the first one to reach their destination. The others arrived about ten minutes AFTER she had already arrived… It happened a few more times on the same hoiiday. I don’t know if that’s a Shanghai thing or not, but that’s kinda funny isn’t it?

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