In this article, I’ll explain how to read bus timetables in China. Of all the bus timetables I’ve seen in various cities in China, they are all in this same format, so hopefully it will give you some guidance, but I can’t guarantee all bus timetables in China are like this.
This example photo was taken in a hurry when I was in Xiamen, Fujian for different purposes (ie, not specifically for this tutorial) and is thus not a very good or complete photo. This timetable is of the buses in Xiamen on Huanhuli Ave towards Wanda Shopping Plaza on the same side of the road as the hotel I stayed at, and goes in the opposite direction of Nanputuo Temple.
How to read the timetables:
The route number is on the left hand side. 751 is the bus number I was after, and is on the bottom and the number 7 is cut off in this image. The names of all the stops on each route is listed vertically (ie read top to bottom). The horizontal arrow (at the right hand end of te dotted line) across the top of each route is the direction that the buses on this side of the road goes in, and the red name is your current stop. The white words in the red bar at the bottom of each route time table tells you the next stop.
The small words directly under the route number tells you the first and last service of that route of the day at that stop.
Chinese is hard to learn and read. I would suggest if you want to take public buses, that you take a picture of the timetable for the route you need at the bus stop you get on, so that you have a visual guide for all the stops on that route. That way, if you can’t read it, you can at least see what some of the words look like, and match it with the visual stop announcements in each bus and know what direction your bus is headed in. You’d also have a visual aid to ask for help from other people should you need it. You can try asking the hotel staff telling you which stop to get off at and as a last resort, Chinese buses (all the ones I’ve come across) stop at all stops (they at least slow down and open the doors very briefly even if there is no one waiting to get on, in case someone wants to get off) and so you can count how many stops there are till you need to get off. Tip: “下一站” means “next stop”.
Paying for your ride:
Of all the buses I’ve come across in China in 4 different cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Guilin and Xiamen), they all cost 1 Yuan to ride, or 2 if you are riding all the way to the last stop. Payment relies on honesty, there are no tickets and the bus driver does not handle payments. Put your cash into the collector box and make sure you have the right change, as there is no change given and the box is a one way box, the slit allows coins and notes to fall in but you can’t reach in and get it back out. Some people use an electronic tag with preloaded money, but as a tourist you’re better off with cash. If you find yourself short of the right cash, you can try and ask if someone has change on the bus, I’ve seen people do it successfully, but in Chinese.