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July 17, 2008

Getting Around: Olympic Transportation

With a pair of BOCOG employees leading the way, I decided today that it was time to learn how to ride a city bus. Taxis are cheap, but buses and the metro are free for Olympic employees and accredited journalists. Bus routes and stops are only listed in Chinese, so figuring out how to get from A to B without a Chinese guide is nearly impossible. The experience, considerably less convenient than a taxi, came to a screeching halt in the middle of a busy intersection as the double-decker bus’s engine suddenly went silent. After a minute or so of other vehicles honking at our disabled bus, dozens of passengers began to exit in an orderly fashion, and I went to look for a taxi. I doubt I’ll be riding the bus again anytime soon -- especially when following any kind of schedule.

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The metro is a different story -- it’s clean, fast, and can be very convenient if your hotel is near a metro stop. There are far fewer stops than on the NYC metro, but each is marked in both English and Chinese, and you can access most of the major sites and venues directly from the metro. Tickets cost 2 CNY (about 30-cents) but you can ride for free by waving your accreditation card to an attendant and going through a designated gate. The city has really been beefing up security in recent days. I returned to my hotel this evening to see a dozen brand new cameras mounted on light posts along the street and package screening stations have been set up at each metro station. They’re not yet being consistently enforced (Westerners can often cruise by without stopping for screening) but hopefully that will change within the next couple weeks.

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Finally, accredited media can ride the Media Transport (TM) shuttle bus system beginning July 25. The system is clean to clean, meaning media will only pass through security screening once per day (usually at designated media hotels) and will be brought directly from one clean zone to another. This will hopefully cut down on congestion at venue security screening stations. For private vehicles and shuttles, designated highway Olympic lanes go into effect on July 20, and are restricted to vehicles with VAPPs (vehicle access and parking permit) from 6 a.m. to midnight each day. Unfortunately, access is only available with a purchased permit, so waving your accreditation card in front of a taxi driver won’t let you cruise past Beijing traffic.

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