From today (15 November 2016), if you want to get places on Lines 7, 8, or 15, or the Fangshan Line, you’ll need to talk to — that’s right, a machine. To cut queues in front of traditional ticket counters, the Beijing Subway is encouraging riders to use the automated machines to buy a new Single Journey Ticket, or to add value to their Yikatong transport smartcards.
Of course, volunteers will be on hand to help, and there will be change available — a great help, since these machines won’t accept ¥1 banknotes (which are being phased out anyway). Ticket machines can only take ¥1 coins, as well as ¥5 and ¥10 banknotes, if you’re buying a Single Journey Ticket. If you’re adding value to your Yikatong card, you’ll need to pay in increments of ¥10 — all banknotes ¥10 and greater are accepted, but you can’t use two ¥5 bills to “fake” a ¥10 recharge.
The new lines where fully automated ticketing are being trialled are probably some of the less busy lines (although you can’t say that for the more central parts of Line 7 or Line 8, which can get busy at certain times!). On suburban lines, only 30% of passengers will bother with a machine at all. The Beijing Subway hopes they’ll be able to get more people helping themselves to machines.
But they won’t be getting rid of ticketing staff — yet. If you have an Yikatong smartcard that’s not a regular-sized card, or if you’ve a slightly “thicker” card (if you’ve customised it), you might need to ask staff — especially if your card is rather “odd-sized”. You can’t get a new Yikatong or ask for them to be turned in for a refund at the machines, unlike what you can do in London, so you’ll still need staff as necessary — also the case if you have to use fare adjustment services at Pay Upon Arrival.
Finally, if you want an official tax invoice (fapiao), you’ll need to see staff with your printed receipt. It’s hoped this new incentive will mean travellers will help themselves more using these machines. There is, however, no smarter way as we at Tracking China sees it, than to load enough value into your smartcard at quieter stations.