Of all the transportation options in Chinese cities, the bus system is the hardest to learn, but the most rewarding once you learn the ropes.

China bus stops are easily identifiable. Many stops will have glass enclosure and benches to sit on. Others will only have a post (like in the picture). The bus legend will either be on the post or attached to the bus stop enclosure.

Bus Route – This is the big number at the top of the placard. Oftentimes, this number will be followed by 路, the Chinese word for “road.” Here it would mean “bus route.”

Bus Stops – Each stop the bus makes will be listed on most signs. In the example bus stop sign, the current stop is highlighted using red font. As you can see, this stop is the second stop for #23 bus. The previous stop is in grey (meaning it’s already been past) and the upcoming stops are in black. The red arrow on the left side indicates that stops progress from top to bottom.

Bus Times – On the top right corner of the sign will be two times (written in the 24 hour military clock). 前班车 is the time of the first bus, and 未班车 is the time of the last bus.

Occasionally, there will be times listed near the bottom of the green section. This indicates that the certain bus route is not a common route, and busses only come near the times listed. If you see this, I’d aim to take another bus route.

Bus fare – Most bus fares in larger Chinese cities are 2 RMB or less. When reading a sign, look for the Chinese character 元 meaning Yuan (RMB). The number preceding 元 is the money you need to drop into the box at the front of the bus (or give the bus ticket teller).

Heres an example of a Shanghai bus sign where stations are listed horizontally. Notice that the bus is traveling from right to left (direction of the red arrow). Click the picture to enlarge.

Extra!! Alternate bus sign

Below is a sign from a Beijing bus stop. As you can see, it differs greatly from the Shanghai bus stop sign above. There are several differences, but the basic gist is the same.

Differences: This sign is a bit harder to understand, mostly for the fact that it isnt apparent when looking at the entire bus route, which stop you currently are at. In Shanghai, the current stop is highlighted, but in Beijing, you have to compare the characters in the signpost (天安门) to find its match on the stops below. Also, notice that the characters for the starting and ending time differ from Shanghai. In Beijing, the time for the first bus is preceded by 首车 and ending time is preceded by 未车.

Finally, notice that the stops here run horizontally as opposed to vertically. Signs should have a mark (red arrow) indicating which way the bus is traveling. If the bus is going in the opposite direction you want to travel, cross the road to find the accompanying bus stop for the busses traveling in the other direction.

Don’t know Chinese characters? Go to Google Maps to find public transportation route directions, then either sketch the characters on a piece of paper, or save them to your smart phone/iPod touch. To find the characters for popular locations, check out my Copy & Paste Chinese.

Any questions about the bus system? Let me know!

Photo Credit 1; Photo Credit 2; Photo Credit 3

Tagged with → bus • convenience • tips • transportation