Wed, November 12, 2008
China > Mainland

Cabbies on strike in Chongqing

2008-11-12 09:57:15 GMT2008-11-12 17:57:15 (Beijing Time)  China Daily

Instead of running on busy streets, taxis are parked on a courtyard in Chongqing on Nov 3 when cabbies of China's fourth largest city went on strike, citing rampant illegal taxis, insufficient compressed natural gas supply and hefty fees charged by the cab companies. [Xinhua]

Cabbie Fu Chaoguo drives one of the latest car models in the city, a Ford Mondeo that enables him to charge higher fare compared with older vehicles.

But the 36-year-old Chongqing native still took part in a strike last Monday to protest the high car rental fees charged by his taxi company.

"I initially thought I could make more money driving the new model because the fare charged is higher," Fu told China Daily on Saturday.

"But it doesn't bring in more money, compared with other taxi models."

Despite a flag-down fare of 7 yuan ($1.03), 2 yuan more than other taxis, Fu's Ford also charges passengers 2.4 yuan per km traveled while the other models charge only 1.8 yuan for the distance.

To drive the new Ford, Fu paid 150,000 yuan to his taxi company late last year to share the use of the car with another cabbie for six years.

A new Ford Mondeo costs less than that amount in the market, Fu said.

According to the contract, 50,000 yuan of the 150,000 yuan will be refunded to them when the contract ends in 2013.

Apart from that, by his calculation, Fu and his partner need to pay about 100,000 yuan to the company each year.

In total, they have to pay 700,000 yuan to the company in six years.

"We work for more than 12 hours a day and make only peanuts, while the company enjoys most of what we drivers deserve," Fu said.

This "exploitation" by the company is what drove him and other cabbies to go on strike last week.

There are about 8,000 cabs in the country's fourth-largest city, belonging to 34 taxi companies.

The cabbies reportedly launched the two-day strike to protest insufficient supplies of compressed natural gas that fuels most cabs in the city, competition from unlicensed cabs, high fines for traffic violations and the unfair division of the returns between drivers and companies.

No cabs were seen running in Sanya, a major tourist city in the island province of Hainan, on Monday, while Yongdeng county in Gansu province also saw many of its cabbies stage a strike the same day.

To get more out of their vehicle, Fu and his cab partner decided on a "long-distance" solution - by only picking up passengers at the airport, which lies in a remote area about 30 km north of the city center, and driving them on longer routes to their destinations.

"Waiting at the airport sometimes gives us the chance to 'cheat' those passengers who know nothing about Chongqing," he confessed.

Fu's daily routine involves getting up around 6 am, in time to receive passengers from the first incoming flight at the airport at 7 am.

Taking a cab from the airport to the city center would cost about 70 yuan, based on Fu's taximeter.

Fu said he would commonly offer the passenger he picks up at the airport a higher price for the trip, "at least 80 yuan, and normally 100".

"We tell these passengers we don't follow the taximeter on this sort of long-distance journey," Fu said, adding he has succeeded many times in the ruse, as his car looks much more decent and makes the passenger believe Fu deserves that much for the journey.

"I just follow the taximeter if the lie is found out. I have nothing to lose," Fu said.

Earlier last month, Fu said, Chongqing authorities has stipulated that all taxi drivers have to follow the taximeter at all times.

"All taxi drivers understand that we should follow the taximeter, but we also have to earn a living," he said.

Fu works 15 days a month, leaving the other half to his partner. He said he can manage seven journeys from the airport to the city center each day, "making 700 yuan on good days".

He makes about 3,000 yuan a month after giving 400 yuan to the company and spending 120 yuan on fuel every day.

Since early last month, Fu's daily earnings have dropped to less than 600 yuan.

"It means my profit is actually about only 80 yuan a day," he said, adding that he earned about 1,000 yuan last month.

To make matters worse, his wife lost her job at a factory about four months ago, making it difficult for him to provide for his family that also includes his 13-year-old son.

Fu said if the company lowers rental fees for its vehicles by 50 to 70 yuan a day, then cabbies' lives would be easier and "every cabbie would strictly follow the taximeter".

Taxi companies in Chongqing pay less than 15,000 yuan a year for every cab to the local government, as tax and administrative fees, the Legal Daily has reported.

"The cab industry (in Chongqing) could be said to be built on sudden, huge profits from the taxi companies," the paper said recently.

A Xinhua article also commented that it would "not be an exaggeration" to say the companies are engaged in "exploitation".

A cabbie has to pay between 380 to 460 yuan a day to their companies for use of a car, a local newspaper reported.

Taxi drivers have been appealing to the local authorities to make companies lower their fees for the past few years, said Yu Haomin, who started driving his taxi a decade ago.

"But they told us that it is not their business to decide on monthly fees, that the market has to decide it," Yu said.

A manager of the local Yuqiang Taxi Company told China Daily that "it's all up to the companies to make their own monthly administrative fees on each taxi".

"There is no universal standard," said the manager, surnamed Li.

He added that all taxi companies in Chongqing have "in principle" agreed to reduce the monthly fees, but are still trying to decide how much should be charged specifically.

An employee of the local taxi association said heads of Chongqing's cab companies have confirmed Li's remarks, the Chongqing Morning newspaper reported.

The local pricing bureau Tuesday said it would not intervene in the taxi companies' decision to adjust the monthly fees.

"It is the companies' internal business," an assistant-director of the bureau, surnamed Yang, told China Daily Tuesday.

"This is an open market and the pricing bureau has never intervened before," he said.

However, an expert said the government should step in at such a time.

"The government should intervene," said Professor Zhou Changxiang of the department of social work at the Chongqing Technology and Business University.

The authorities should intervene because the problem and the recent strike have affected residents, Zhou said.

Zhang Jianning was one of those affected by the taxi strike last week. The 53-year-old Chongqing native arrived home from Sichuan province by train that day.

Failing to get a cab, he could only squeeze into an "extremely crowded bus" with his luggage.

Still he sympathized with the taxi drivers.

"Sometimes, I dislike them for their bad service and dirty cabs," Zhang said.

"At the same time, I can understand what they are going through because many people know that local taxi drivers don't earn very much," he said.

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