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Catching cabs without going into the black

Updated: 2013-02-05 11:13
By Lisa Carducci ( China Daily)

The taxi problem in Beijing has become a favorite topic recently, probably because this winter is the coldest in years and, with the coming Spring Festival, people are going out.

The Beijing subway transports 8.7 million commuters daily. New lines have opened recently, and they lure so many passengers that cab drivers say they can feel the difference. Usually, they avoid seeking passengers close to subway stations, and this means they now avoid 221 major spots in the capital city.

There are 67,000 taxis in the capital, counting day and night drivers, but that's still not enough, users say. About 10,000 drivers take a break during peak hours, as the waiting time and the consumed fuel are not balanced by the fee. Let alone the customers' dissatisfaction.

Catching cabs without going into the black

I seldom take taxis but when I do, I ask the drivers how many hours a day they work, and the answer is always between 12 and 18. Several say they work as a team with their spouse.

One driver told me that two or even more people may have their hand in the air at the same time, all thinking they are the only one or the first one. He prefers to ignore them instead of having to arbitrate a fight. Also, some customers (especially foreigners) don't know where a taxi is or is not allowed to stop.

In Shunyi where I live, there are no taxis except "hei che", literally black cars - the unregistered cabs. If we absolutely need a taxi, we have no choice but to use these drivers, though they work illegally. As they face high risk of being fined and having their car confiscated, they charge double price. Take it or leave it.

Catching cabs without going into the black

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Catching cabs without going into the black

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Catching cabs without going into the black

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Once, I had to go to our local population administration office, which is out of reach except by car. I asked the policeman in charge of foreign residents where I live whether he could drive me there when returning to the main station after work. We were standing along the road where illegal drivers wait for business. He indicated a hei che to me, saying: "Take this car." The policeman knew them all, but just turned a blind eye to them. To an insoluble problem he opposed a flagrant contradiction.

At least, in our community we know the drivers by name, so it's safe. But I would never take a black car anywhere else.

I think a large part of the problem would be solved by easing requirements and allowing more drivers to get a private license. Due to the monthly franchise fee 98 percent of Beijing cab drivers must pay to their company before starting to earn money for themselves, some regular drivers quit their jobs and become illegal operators. Just 1,200 drivers presently have private licenses.

Only recently have I seen taxis coming to our outskirt area from the city. Instead of returning empty, they wait around the marketplace or close to the bus stop. Once, I was lucky enough to get one when carrying a 20 kg bag to the post office, on the condition that I could explain how to go there, as the driver was not familiar. The distance was only 1 km.

The following week, I was going to the Airport Hospital, but the driver didn't know the way. I waited for the shuttle bus to the airport, which also serves as a local bus.

Very few taxis are equipped with radio communication. In China, taxis are hired on the street, not by telephone. But I recently heard good news: It is possible to call 96103 (service in Chinese and English) to get a cab for a 3 yuan charge. Another improvement is that along the streets where customers are in great number, rails are being installed like those at bus stops, and a sign reads "Please queue here for taxi".

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