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Beijing, Getting around, Practicalities

Catching a taxi near railway station… Almost FAILED

If you don’t know me, let me say this first: I’m not greedy. But I don’t like to be ripped off and I don’t like to bargain. Oh, and I like experiments.

Our train from Zhengzhou was arriving at 11pm. Only as we exited the train did we realize that the only way to get home is taxi. And it’s not a problem by itself, but the same realization came to all those who arrived on the same train. And on an hour worth of trains before yours. A real feast for black cabs. If you don’t want to wait in what looks like a 2-hour line staying in an official line, you can get out on the street and try your luck with “black cabs”, which usually charge 2-3x. Considering how cheap they’re in Beijing (Y2 per km), it’s not a big deal – still cheaper than US, but it sucks to encourage this offshoot of emerging market economy.

So, as I said, I like experiments. I persuaded my friends to grab a black cab, as they were all going to the same neighborhood, and decided to try my luck with getting a metered cab. As I walked by the street, I saw free cabs passing by, but they were all ignoring me, all heading into the “official line” or a “black” hangout. Alright. So I decided to walk in some direction further away from the station hoping to intercept some cabs that were not intending to feed from the railway station. To make it faster, I ventured to take a bus. It turned out to be a night bus – a rare bird, and thus a popular one. Well, it was late and there happened to be a lot of froogal folks like me, so it took me another two bus stops to get out of the bus. So, here was the picture 1.5km away from the station: people with suitcases walking in 3 directions, hopelessly waving their hands. I was lucky to have no luggage. Those in front were reaping the benefits from time to time, but more often than not free taxis kept ignoring the poor rebels and kept going towards easy prey – the station. I started thinking about outrunning those lucky ones…

… and then the influx of free taxis stopped. Shoot. None. Absolutely. 2km away from the station at midnight. F$%*k. No good. Okay, the weather was nice, and so I headed back. Only me, road and road workers smirking at a lost laowai. The intersection closest to a station still had some people who looked like they tried to get a cab. “Looked like”, because when they saw one, they were only hopelessly twitching the hands, in an utmost sign of despair. I walked by them and there it was: I shiny cab with a light on. And it stopped. And didn’t try to bargain. A miracle…

So, some words of wisdom:

  • If you don’t have great “taxi fishing” skills, an extra hour or two or you can’t outrun those who arrived before you, get a black cab. Bargain, though it wouldn’t help much. You’ll afford it – peace of mind is worth it.
  • If you want to get one with a meter, re-read my story and if the word “miracle” at the end is a good enough guarantee for you, try following a major thoroughfare (like a ring road) towards the city center against the direction of traffic. You will not be the only one doing that. Be prepared that most of the unoccupied will be ignoring you for some time.


One thought on “Catching a taxi near railway station… Almost FAILED

  1. It’s not boring, isn’t it? Enjoy, he-he…

    Yeah catching taxis are fun. I find learning to explain where you want to go even more fun 🙂 Have you mastered that yet?

    Actually I don’t think I ever spent that much time catching one. Yes sometimes they ignore you, but usually I got one within about 5 minutes. But your situation was asking for it 🙂

    Posted by oulful | April 14, 2011, 12:42

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