If biking just isn't your thing, or you're a commuter who needs options, you can sign up for a (Tianfu) Tong Card (天府通卡/ Tiānfǔtōngkǎ). There's really no reason not to get a card — will save you some money and keep you from fumbling for change — apart from the fact that figuring out where to get it might prove to be a hassle (see below).
The card's current incarnation debuted when Metro Line 1 opened in October 2010. It features two stored-value options, the "electronic wallet" (电子钱包/diànzǐ qiánbāo) and the charge-per-swipe (充次数/chōng cìshù) option. Both may be credited on one pass.
The electronic wallet gives passengers a 10-percent discount on bus and subway rides, does not cover transfers, and any credit carries over from month to month.
The charge-per-swipe option is valid only on bus rides and deducts 50 percent of the cost of the ride from the card's stored credit each time it is swiped and offers passengers up to three free transfers within two hours. Credit can be added to this option in increments of RMB1, and all value is cleared from the card on the last day of each month.
Tip: If you have credited both the electronic wallet and the charge-per-swipe, you can swipe your pass twice on the bus (for, say, your pass-less friend). The first swipe will deduct from the charge-per-swipe account and the second swipe will be deducted from the electronic wallet. You can add value to your card any time of the month at most Hongqi chain stores, and you can add value to the electronic wallet at subway station ticketing counters.
"Ladies and gentlemen, for your safety, please do not carry any explosives, combustibles ..."
The company behind the Tiantong pass has said that in the future, the card will be enabled to pay for many more transactions than public transit, including shopping, car parking, highway tolls, gas stations, home-utility and telecommunications charges, and even hospital-registration fees.
To get your card, you will need a valid ID and a deposit of RMB20 or 23 if you want a plastic case for your card (recommended as the card, along with any stored value on it, becomes invalid if it cannot be read). The deposit is refundable if you retain your receipt and the card is in its "original condition." Passes that are not used for one year are deactivated.
Unfortunately there seems to be little rhyme or reason in the whereabouts of the places to apply for the actual card. You can always ask your card-carrying friend where he/she got his, or you can try your luck at large pharmacies (look for the 公交卡 sign outside), Trust Mart on the First Ring Road in Yulin, the @World and New Century buildings at Computer City, the transit office at 39 Hongji Lu, or at transportation hubs such as Jinsha, Chadianzi, Gaosuntang, Wuguiqiao, Guixi, or the north station. There are also user-generated lists of locations here (Chinese only) and here (English). All else failing, call the Tianfu consulting hotline at 85133360 or 85133050.
This article was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife, issue 47, "how to v."