On the Buses

On the Buses

By Leah O'Hearn

This probably wasn't taken at
8:30am on a Monday

You should be making use of Shanghai’s reliable and convenient bus system: Always remember that the word ‘bus’ comes from ‘omnibus’ meaning ‘for all’.

When I first moved into my apartment in Luwan, my kind landlords told me which bus I should take to get to the Zhongshan Park area nearby the Shanghai Expat offices. They told me the number, where to go to take the bus, where it would drop me off at the end of the day…but, after a month, do you think I had tried taking the bus yet? No. Everyday I meant to try it but still somehow ended up at the Metro, thinking ‘I’m late. It’s too much of a hassle. I’ll try it tomorrow”.

Three days ago, I decided to switch to commuting by bus and I have to report that so far I like it. With over a thousand bus lines, there are advantages to taking the bus: It can get you closer to your destination as, with so many lines, it can reach into more areas of the city; It’s cheaper. While a standard trip on the Metro may cost you 3 yuan, on the bus it may only cost you 2 yuan (or less if there is a conductor and you are not going far); You can see more of the city and it can help you to familiarize yourself with the layout of Shanghai; And finally, there is something to be said for sitting back and not having to worry about changing Metro lines. Past experiences of commuting by bus in Chongqing and Zhuhai had led me to believe that being inside a Shanghainese bus at rush hour would feel like being trapped inside a tin of sardines. Certainly, it has been a little crowded on occasion but, all in all, the two bus lines I have tried at various hours of the day and evening have been less crowded (and less stressful) than the Metro.

This probably was.

For argument’s sake, let’s say you are convinced and you want to give the bus a go yourself. How do you find out what number to take? How will you find out where the bus stop is? Well, you can start by buying a transportation map (公交地图 or gong jiao di tu) for around 5 yuan from a news stand or convenience store. Although the map is in Chinese and the printing is small (it actually comes with a plastic magnifying glass!), it sets out all the major bus routes and numbers. 

The printed transportation map is a useful thing to have around when there’s no internet connection but this is the 21st century, so what online tools can you use? Your two mainstays will be http://msittig.wubi.org/bus/ and http://www.icexpat.com. The first website is low tech and its most recent update was in late 2009 but if you know your bus numbers and just want to check the stops and the operating times quickly, this is a good tool to use. It also has the advantage of being easy to download. The latter website, ICExpat, is good: there are route planning options (although this tool does not seem as user friendly as DDMap - see below), a variety of maps (Metro, city, transportation, and street), and it’s in English. Unfortunately, in order to enable the ‘Get Directions’ tool to advise a useful bus number, I had to work backwards from their online ‘Transportation Map’ using said useful bus number to find the correct names of the stops. In other words, it took a lot of work and prior knowledge to find street names and/or landmarks that the gadget could recognize in order to find out what I already knew. If you’re not in the city yet and can’t do any real world reconnaissance of bus stops near you, a combination of Google Maps (open in a separate window not through the ICExpat site) and ICExpat can yield good results. If you can find your home on Google Maps, click on the bus symbol closest to you to find out which bus numbers stop there. Then, check out the routes for these buses on ICExpat. Overall, the site seems to have problems often but it is well-worth playing around with because it can yield some good information. 

So, you have your bus number and you know where the bus stop is but how should you pay for your journey? Rather than weighing your pockets down every day with small change, remember that you can use your transportation card on the buses. It is also useful to remember that if you take the bus and, then, within 2 hours, take a bus again, your next fare will be cheaper by 1 yuan. Similarly, you take the Metro and then change to a bus, you should receive a discount of 1 yuan off your bus fare. If you want to add money to your card, you will need to visit the Metro station or find a Chinese convenience store like Haode or Kedi.

Finally, remember that some lines are busier than others: on some you may easily find a seat on most trips but on others you may find yourself squashed and breathless in a crowd of other commuters. Pick and choose your journeys carefully and buses can be a welcome addition to your list of transport options. 

On your marks, get set

For further information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Bus  - This is actually a pretty useful page. Check out the broad rundown of what the bus numbers mean, for example line numbers between 400 and 499 are those that cross Huangpu River.
http://msittig.wubi.org/bus/talk/ - An oddly amusing Shanghai buses for dummies style tutorial.
http://home.wangjianshuo.com/archives/20051124_how_to_read_shanghai_bus_stop_plate.htm - Another tutorial but one that focuses on the bus signs in more detail. More useful if you can read a little Chinese.
http://www.ddmap.com  - If your Chinese is fine and you just want to plan your journey more efficiently, try ddmap.com. Their ‘Get Directions’ tool seems to recognize addresses more easily than ICExpat’s does. Even if your Chinese is not so good, give it a try as it’s a fairly easy tool to use and good practice for recognizing characters on the buses.
http://www.shanghaiexpat.com/phpbbforum/shanghai-bus-map-t100568.html - Find up to date tips and information in our forums.