Everyone Rides the Subway in China

China has more people than any nation but fewer cars per person than nearly half the countries in the world. How do people get around? The subway! Among major global cities, China's subway systems are the newest and quickly became the biggest and most-used, regularly breaking their own records:

* Longest Subway System: Shanghai, 652 kilometers (31 March 2018)

* Most Daily Riders: Beijing, 13.19 million (14 July 2018)

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

As of 2016, there were 30 subway systems in mainland China with plans to expand to 40 more cities in the next few years. The first subway line was built in Beijing in 1969 but Shanghai didn't have a subway until 1993. Less than 20 years later, in 2010, Shanghai had the longest subway system in the world. More and more people are moving to big cities in China and the subway systems continue to expand to accommodate the growing population with the Beijing and Shanghai subways carrying an average of 10 million people each day.


Taking the subway in many Chinese cities is often faster than driving, especially during rush hour, and is also incredibly cheap. The Guangzhou and Shenzhen subway fares start at just 2RMB per ride and the Beijing and Shanghai subways start at 3RMB per ride. All of the subway systems charge by distance with fares increasing 1RMB every 6-10 kilometers. Most riders travel 15-30 minutes on the trains and pay 3-5RMB per ride. The most expensive and longest ride on a subway in China is in Shanghai from Dishui Lake (end of Line 16) to Oriental Land (end of Line 17) which costs 17RMB, takes 2 hours 40 minutes and covers 120 kilometers. Riders can pay per ride by purchasing a ticket from a machine at each subway station or buy a multi-use transportation card. In 2017, Beijing and Shanghai started accepting payment by phone using a QR code or NFC in the subway system's app, WeChat, Apple Pay, or the Huawei Wallet.

The subway is definitely the most convenient way to get around the big cities in China but many people also use buses, bike shares, and still drive, especially in the smaller cities.

City # Lines # Stations Track Length Year Opened Annual Riders
(in millions)
Beijing 21 362 599km 1969 3,777
Shanghai 16 392 652km 1993 3,537
Guangzhou 12 212 391km 1997 2,805
Shenzhen 8 199 286km 2004 1,446
Hong Kong 11 93 184km 1979 1,767
Nanjing 10 173 377km 2005 977

This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.