Reading and understanding Chinese bus routes
Few things you’ll encounter in China will make you feel as helpless and illiterate as looking at a bus route. All those characters. Some read horizontally, some vertically. There’s no getting around the fact that you’ll need to be able to recognize at least a tiny bit of Chinese (ie. the characters for your destination) to use a bus route effectively. But we can get you started by helping you decipher at least the basics of what’s printed on a bus route.
What you see in the photo below is a fairly standard sign, as found at a bus stop. This one is from Beijing, but you’ll find the route signs in other cities are generally fairly similar.
So, clearly lots of information there. Now what does it all mean?
1. The number of the bus serving the route and stops listed on this sign. This bus will also stop nearby this sign, so don’t stray too far if this is the bus you want to catch.
2. The name of the bus stop you are standing at. At some stops, the stop name may also be printed in pinyin, but this is far from guaranteed. Note that the stop name also appears in the list of stops from left to right below. On the image above, the present stop is marked by a white arrow below the stop’s name, but it may also be marked by a different color from the stops preceding and following.
3. The name of the first stop on the route.
4. The name of the last stop on the route.
5. The time that the first bus of the day （首车） and last bus of the day （末车） leave the starting station, respectively. Pay special attention to this, especially if you’re planning your return journey in advance.
6. Indicates the direction in which the bus is traveling.
7. The fare rate.