By Lauren Black (邬天晴)
Before Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympic Games, it had a lot of preparation to do. One of the challenges the city had to meet was providing a public transport that would efficiently and impressively shuttle both tourists and Beijingers around the city.
The result - Beijing’s subway system - is nothing short of groundbreaking.
Picking out our destination (Xidan, in this case) on a clearly marked map.
Stations are clean, polished, well-lit, and outfitted with the full array of signage in Chinese and English. Entry via both escalators and stairs is available at every stop.
The gleaming entrance to the Peking University East Gate subway station.
The ticketing system is exceedingly simple. Every trip, regardless of length, costs two yuan (about 35c in AUD). You can purchase one-off paper tickets at a machine, or buy a reusable card with reloadable credit.
My friend choosing our route at a ticket machine.
Security is higher than the Sydney train system; you have to pass your belongings through a conveyor belt scanner before descending to the train platform. Water bottles are also tested on a specialized machine to verify that they don’t contain explosives.
Scanning ze bags
Past the quick and easy security check, the walls are decorated with large, brightly lit advertisements for all kinds of things, including singers, drinks, and phone plans.
Very fluorescent! Notice the clearly marked signs everywhere.
Safety continues to be a priority downstairs at the train platform, where glass barriers prevent passengers from accidentally falling onto the tracks.
A pair of sliding glass doors, with a reflection of my super photogenic friend.
A particularly admirable feature of Beijing’s subway system is that you never have to wait. Trains are timed to the second and come every one or two minutes; delays are unheard of. If this is what happens when Beijing hosts the Olympics, I wouldn’t mind it hosting the Olympics more often!
But Beijing is still a city of eleven and a half million people - twenty million if you count people visiting from outside provinces. Even at two o’clock in the afternoon on a Monday - hardly rush hour - my friend and I soon found our train carriage quite busy as we approached the popular Xidan shopping centre.
Passengers, passengers everywhere!
While riding the subway, I was surprised to not only see advertisements on screens inside the train, but also in the darkness of the tunnel outside! The images flickered slightly, and I realized they were created by a series of screens outside the train, each displaying one frame of the animated advertisement. Just like when watching television or films, the brain assembles the collection of still frames into a coherent, moving whole.
The split-second exposure of photography reveals the illusion, displaying a gap between two screens.
I also appreciated the clear, bilingual displays on both sides of the train. These showed not only the train’s current location, but also which side of the carriage was the exit.
The location displays - unbelievably clear, simple and useful!
After about forty minutes, we arrived at Xidan. The whole experience was immensely satisfying for one used to Sydney’s public transport system, where buses and trains are late so often that nobody bothers to complain anymore. Taking the subway in Beijing felt safe, reliable, and easy. And I had mobile phone reception from start to finish!
Wall-to-wall advertisements at the Xidan exit.
Having now taken the subway several times, I can confidently agree with the assessment that Beijing’s subway system is one of the best in the world.