The bus system in Beijing features a countless number of lines taking you literally anywhere – giving the size of the city and all its suburbs that is quite a feature. There are stops in the more rural areas where you would not be able to discern one speck of civilization on the horizon (except for the road you are travelling on and the bus stop) yet people do get on and off there. Arguably, since many people in China and Beijing still cannot afford their own car they resort to public buses to get them from A to B. Funnily enough, despite the extensive bus system, car ownership ranks high on anyone’s agenda and is part of the three-pronged approach to getting married (i.e. owning a home, a car and some savings).
The real 104 bus
The Beijing bus lines
Beijing bus lines range from 1 to infinity (at least, that’s how it feels). Then there are some bus lines operated by private contractors which carry the company name in front of their numbers and are oftentimes painted in some conspicuous colour combination. For example, the black and red 运通 104 bus operates a route that is completely different from the ordinary blue 104 bus, so be aware. There even used to be unlicensed buses roaming the ring roads stopping everywhere to let people on and off. While those were as cheap as official buses, they were normally faster. The practice has gone out of fashion for the Olympics 2008, however, and now you have to wait it out no matter what.
The unreal 104 bus
The cheapest form of motorized transportation
Taking a bus in Beijing is dirt cheap. Be sure to get yourself a traffic card at any subway station and charge it with some cash. In this way you will avoid having to buy a new ticket every time you take a bus (and telling the conductor where you are going) and also get a 60% discount. The most ordinary buses then work out at 40 cents instead of 1 Renminbi. However, due to the low prices Beijing buses are chronically overloaded. If you get yourself a seat you can consider yourself lucky. Better prepare for a standing journey. In this way, all of Beijing public transport is actually operating at capacity, you can find out for yourself by taking buses or the subway during rush hour. Good luck.
Traffic card: Saves you a lot of hassle – and money too