Shanghai Subway – A Survival Guide

Shanghai Subway – A Survival Guide

For everyone who is working in Shanghai the daily commute to work can be adventurous. If you take the taxi or the bus it might happen that you get stuck in traffic for two hours. If you take the metro on the other hand, you might be on time, but you might get stuck between the metro doors as well.

Taking the subway in Shanghai can be fun, or extremely annoying. There are many things you should know to make the most out of your Shanghai travel experience.

The Shanghai subway has become one of the fastest-growing metro systems in the world, with several lines still under construction. It seems every time I come back to Shanghai, there has a new metro line opened.

Currently there are 14 metro lines, with an operating route length of 567 kilometers or 352 miles, making it one of the longest in the world.  On a normal weekday over 7 million people use the Shanghai Subway, which makes it just the fourth busiest subway in the world.

Even though it can crowded during specific times of the day, or on specific lines, it is still a fast and convenient means of transportation around Shanghai. If you don’t simply use the subway to get to work, you can also use it for sightseeing. All main attractions like the Bund, Nanjing Road, Huaihai Road, People’s Square, Shanghai Railway Station and Xujiahui can be reached by several subway lines.

Tickets and Security

My old and shubby looking transportation card.

My old and shubby looking transportation card.

You can either buy a single ticket every time you travel or get a Shanghai Public Transportation Card 交通卡, which can also be used in buses and taxis. Compared to Beijing the Shanghai subway is a tad more expensive. Every single ticket starts at 3RMB, and depending on how far you go till 4RMB or 6RMB. The rule is for 0 to 6 kilometres you pay 3RMB. 6 to 16 4RMB, and above 16 kilometres you pay 1RMB for each extra ten kilometres. This is still cheap compared to taxis in Shanghai.

If you stay longer in Shanghai, I would advise to get a Transportation Card. Usually for the first time you pay 100RMB, of which 20RMB is deposit and 80RMB for use. I had my card since 2007 and it is still my best friend on the daily travels in Shanghai.

The Shanghai Subway is supposed to be really safe. Before you enter the platform you have to put all your bags into a scanner (like the airport security). Unfortunately, not everyone is doing it (me included). They also don’t really strictly enforce this rule, just during special time, like the Expo in 2010, the security is tightened.

Rush Hour

Rush hour at Shanghai People's Square

Rush hour at Shanghai People’s Square

Between 7:30am to 9:30am and 4:30pm to 6:30pm, the workforce in Shanghai is on the move. Those are the peak times, and if you work in Shanghai simply cannot be avoided. There is a mass amount of people trying to get on the trains and special security people to keep everyone safe (and push them on the trains if necessary). The best tip to give is go with the flow. If you start pushing, and kicking, and going against the people, you won’t get anywhere. Remember, you are one, they are hundreds.

After you have taken the metro for a few time during rush hours, you will figure out which carriages are “less” crowded. I take line 2 from People’s Square everyday, and the worst place to wait is in the middle, next to the staircase, because people getting off the subway will push towards the staircase, and people trying to get on the subway the last minute will push towards the train… it’s a terrible feeling. You don’t want to be stuck in between these forces. On the train you should always stay alert. Keep your belongings close to you as thieves have it really easy in those crowded trains. You usually don’t need to hold on to anything as you will be stuck in between all those people. As soon as your stop is approaching you have to make your way to the exit. Plan well in advance. Usually, people will make way for you. Just ask the person in front of you if they are getting off the next stop (“xiache ma? 下车吗?” is enough in this case), if they don’t they will switch places with you. You repeat until in front of the door or someone who also needs to get off.

Shanghai Subway Map

Shanghai Subway Map

For a detailed view of all subway lines and their stops in Shanghai in English check out the Travel China Guide website. They have a great listing and explanation for all subway lines in Shanghai.

I am already used to travelling with Chinese subways. Peak times can be harsh but everyone is in the same boat, right? (or in the case train haha) Keep yourself occupied during longer journeys by reading a book (haven’t seen a single person reading a book on Shanghai metro), or more common by playing mobile phone games.

So, enjoy – keep calm and squeeze in!

How are your experiences with Chinese subways? Or do you prefer to take a taxi at any time?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

4 thoughts on “Shanghai Subway – A Survival Guide

  1. I don’t know if it’s still the same since last time I’ve been there was 2 years ago, but if you change from subway to bus or bus to bus and click your card instead of paying 2RMB you paid only 1RMB, and after 3 changes in X hours (I have no idea, I think it’s 2h) the next bus is free :) super cheap!

  2. Interesting, so they have minders who help push people onto the subway trains just like in Japan. Also in Japan are habitual gropers who are a great nuisance to female subway passengers: do you have to worry about being groped on the subway in Shanghai too?

    • No in shanghai subway is very safe. Never heard people got groped on the subway, especially foreigners. The Chinese usually just stare at you but would rarely touch you.

  3. I wish in xi’an the subway system would be more advanced by now as there are just too many places you can’t reach at all thus far. This means that I usually take the taxi or bus everywhere (I prefer the taxi because I don’t need to squeeze there) but during most of the day the traffic in the inner city area is just a mess so it is even faster to walk…

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