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2008 Nov 19 Beijing's Octopus: The Things You Can Do with an Yikatong


The Beijing Municipal Administration and Communications Card or Yikatong is in need of a nice catchy English name. Beijingologist David Feng's Beijing Super Pass is a good first attempt, but it doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Hong Kong's Octopus or London's Oyster. Despite the lack of a nifty moniker, the handy little card has proved popular with Beijngers and visitors to the city since it became possible to ride on most of Beijing's public transport in 2006 by simply swiping the card. Yikatong became even more popular when in January 2007 card users were given discounts on the city's public buses (it now costs a minimum of 4 mao to ride if you swipe but 1 kuai if you're paying cash) and when paper tickets were done away with on all of the capital's subway lines. Prior to the Olympics, despite the occasional controversy, close to 20,000,000 cards had been sold.

The functions of the yikatong have continued to expand and the card can now be used to make a telephone call from a public telephone (now at discount rates), buy groceries at major supermarkets and corner stores, function as an annual pass to various parks, work out at select gyms and sports centers, buy a ticket at some cinemas and from August this year, take a ride in any of Beijing's 80,000 odd taxis.

Looking forward to the future, according to a report over at Sohu, a system that allows drivers to pay their parking fees with the yikatong will be introduced at a select carparks around Beijing in early December. Earlier reports suugested that the system will be able to automatically detect if drivers have traveled by subway on the same day and give them a discount if they have. By early next year, drivers should be able to pay all parking fares and expressway tolls within the 8 urban districts of Beijing by swiping their yikatong.

The Yikatong company have also indicated that it might soon be possible to swipe the card at various fast-food outlets around town, meaning residents will be able to charge that KFC youtiao to their card. The government is also now working on allowing residents to pay their water and electricity bills by using the card.

Finally, plans to somehow combine the card with cell phones that we wrote about last year, seem to be a step closer. The technology is different from what we imagined, early reports indicated that the card would work with the SIM card installed in the phone, but as these images from The Third Beijing International Finance Expo show, the mini-card seems to be attached to the phone by a string. There are plenty of these "first-generation" mini-cards available on taobao for around RMB 80. However, Yikatong are still working on even smaller versions that can be inserted into or attached to mobile phones.

Links and Sources
Official Yikatong Site (Chinese)
Wikipedia: Beijing Municipal Administration and Communications Card
Sohu: Beijing to test a system to pay parking fares with yikatong
rfidworld.com: 北京:市政交通一卡通升级 可打公用电话
Xinhua: Parking image
rfidworld.com: mini yikatong card (image)
The Beijinger: Beijing's taxi drivers get new threads for the Olympics
The Beijinger: Plugged In – An Update on New Technology Trends in Beijing

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At midnight last night the price of the regular #93 fuel went up by 8% about 3%. It now sells for RMB 6.37 a liter and a liter of #97 will set you back RMB 6.78. The price hike was announced by the Beijing National Development and Reform Commission, who put it down to the higher cost of producing the superior quality Euro IV standard gasoline which is now required to be used in all of Beijing’s vehicles. This measure was adopted in March this year to help the city achieve its air quality goals. The Beijng News quotes energy experts as saying that the price adjustment will not be nationwide at present. This is the first price rise since petrol went up 16% in June this year.

Anyone who has been squeezed aboveground by the teeming masses in the city's subway system is sure to have noticed the flu-like spread of a little sticker across the rear windows of Beijing automobiles. For those of you who – while weaving through traffic on your flying pigeon, zoning out in the back of a cab or gripping the handrail on that shit-it's-just-as-crowded-as-the-subway bus – wonder what the sticker is all about and why one in six car owners are willing to attach it to their pride and joy, we offer this short introduction.

There was a bit of confusion during yesterday's peak hour as Beijing's white-collar crowd struggled to adjust to the long-awaited introduction of the new swipe card system on Beijing's subway. For most regular subway users little has changed, they are now simply required to swipe their cards at the end of their trip in addition to when entering the station – with the added complication of making sure that they exit through a gate with a green check-mark (tick) rather than a red cross above it. Still, when we passed through Dawang Lu station at 9am yesterday morning, this simple task seemed to be proving a little troublesome for some of the city's CBD workers. However, according to other colleagues, the system seemed to be working fine at other stations, there were no queues and everything functioned very smoothly.

There were long lines at Beijing's gas stations last night as cab drivers and other motorists rushed to fill up the tank before a 16% increase in fuel prices came into effect at midnight. The price hike, which was decided upon by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and announced by Xinhua at about 7pm last night, will see the price of the regular #93 fuel increase from the current RMB 5.34 to RMB 6.2 a liter. Energy prices will also go up as of July 1.

This is the first price rise since last October when prices rose 10% from RMB 4.9 to 5.34 a liter. What we're not sure of is how this will affect taxi prices in the capital. Last year's price hike was accompanied by an increase in the subsidy paid out to cabbies, rising to RMB 780 a month, but, as of this morning, no announcement has been made about changes to subsidies. The Beijing News quote a driver as saying that "without increased subsidies, it will become very difficult for Beijing's taxi drivers to endure the price rise." At the time of last year's price rise, People's Daily quoted the municipal development and reform commission as saying it does not plan to raise taxi fares before the gasoline price hits 6.1 yuan per liter – they've just hit 6.2.