Crackdown won't help taking taxi

Police ask the drivers not park outside Gucheng station, where black taxis gather in Shijingshan district. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Beijing taxi drivers on Wednesday ignored people trying to hail them and refused to go places because of bad traffic. Some tried to gouge customers with off-the-meter rates.

In other words, it was a day like any other, with the drivers oblivious to a pledge by the municipal government to "eradicate the black sheep in the taxi industry."

Drivers said catching a taxi will keep getting harder until they can start making more money on each trip.

"Many drivers won't take customers during rush hours, because it's very common to get caught in traffic for an hour. Though we get compensation for being trapped, 1 kilometer (about 2 yuan ($0.30)) every five minutes, it can never make up for our loss of time,"said a cabbie surnamed Zhang, who has been driving a taxi for 19 years. "The situation will only get worse if drivers don't start making more money."

The result is that many taxis will only stop for customers who they calculate will not direct them into high traffic areas. Other drivers agree to go through heavy traffic, but only for a surcharge.

When a Global Times reporter tried to hire a taxi from Sanyuanqiao to 798 Art District, the taxi driver asked for a flat fee of 70 yuan, which normally costs less than 20 yuan. When asked to use the meter, the driver said, "Go away if you won't take my offer."

A 57-year-old taxi driver surnamed Li said that he has been driving taxi for 30 years and understands why drivers ask for more money, or why they refuse to take certain customers.

"Drivers have to use the same amount of gas, but devote more time into the work to earn the same daily income, because although the meter rate of taxis remains the same, the monthly fee we have to pay to the company has increased,"he said.

Li also said that the cost of living in Beijing has skyrocketed. For example, the price of gas was around five yuan per liter in 2007, but today it's more than seven yuan. "After driving for eight hours, your earnings can only meet the cost of your monthly fee and gas. Many of us have to work overtime to make real money," said Li.

Taxi rates in Beijing have remained unchanged since 2002, although the Beijing municipal government now gives every taxi driver 1,305 yuan each month as a subsidy, to balance the increasing price of gas. Nonetheless, their income has been wildly outpaced by the increasing cost of living.

On Christmas, the municipal government's media office announced over its official microblog that "it would enhance the moral principal of taxi drivers, strengthen the communication in key areas, optimize the transportation of traffic capacity and eradicate the black sheep in the taxi industry."

It made this announcement after a segment aired on CCTV's news about taxis breaking regulations by refusing customers and price gouging.

People told about the municipal government's pledge of a taxi crackdown were skeptical it could be put into practice. "I have been hearing this stuff for three years, and the situation never improved," said a 27-year-old fashion shop retailer who works in Sanlitun, surnamed Luo, adding that she tried to hire a taxi on Christmas Eve, yet many empty cars just passed her by without stopping.

"Some stopped. But when they found I'm not going the direction they are heading, they left, regardless of the extra 20 yuan I offered," she said. "Beijing's taxi drivers should realize they are workers in a service industry, an industry which treasures customers' experience."

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