Driving forces on the road
( China Daily )
|Taxis join the queues at Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai. |
Bad traffic conditions, rising rental and fuel charges make
it harder for cabbies to make a decent living. Provided to China Daily
Hangzhou: West lake dreams
Hai Liang cannot remember how many times he has made a stop at Hangzhou's majestic West Lake since he started driving a taxi here six years ago.
"At least once every day," the 39-year-old cab drivers says.
And all those times he dropped off tourists visiting the World Heritage site, he had hoped that, one day, he could get out of his little cab and join the sightseers so he can take a photograph to send back to his family in Henan province.
"They say those who fail to visit the West Lake have not really seen Hangzhou. In that case, I'm really not a 'qualified' resident," Hai says, tongue-in-cheek, although he can drive his passengers to every restaurant, hotel, or even public toilet around the lake.
There is no time to linger.
"All I do is work and sleep," he explains.
"If you do not forge ahead, you are driven back. And in my case, if I take off even for a single day, I will lose 300 yuan at least."
Like the other nearly 20,000 taxi drivers in Hangzhou, Hai works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round. In return, he can bring home 3,000 yuan ($450) or so a month.
"I have to pay 300 yuan to the company and 100 yuan for gas every day, which means I will start making money only after the first 400 yuan," he says.
But for Hai, who comes from the most densely populated province in China, life in Hangzhou is more "isolated" and "monotonous".
Since they arrived from Henan in 2005, Hai and his wife, a cleaner in a motel, have not had time to visit any of Hangzhou's many scenic attractions, nor have they enjoyed any of the city's famous cuisine.
They have no time to make friends with the locals. Their biggest joy is a phone call once a week with two teenaged children back home who are about to finish high school.
Hai is only one among thousands of Henan migrants who live and work in Hangzhou who account for about a quarter of the total number of taxi drivers in Hangzhou. Hai was told Hangzhou offered better opportunities, but he's not too sure about that now, especially where the living conditions are concerned. Living in a 10-square-meter room in the north of the city, Hai describes his home as "only better than a pig sty". There is only space in the room for a second-hand bed they bought, but no electric appliances. The kitchen and toilet share the same space, and the stove sits right next to the cistern.
Hai rented the place for 600 yuan a month from a local farmer, who was using it as a storeroom. He used to pay 120 yuan a month for the room, but rental has doubled again and again as more and more cab drivers flooded the area looking for cheap rental space.
"No one knows how many people are living here, but my neighbors are all taxi drivers from Henan," says Hai.
"It's convenient. If one of us falls sick, we can easily find a replacement driver for the shift."
Cai Guanyao, secretary-general of Hangzhou Urban Taxi Association, says taxi drivers in Hangzhou work the hardest and the longest compared to others in China.
"Their income may be ok, but they toil far harder. It's very unfair," says Cai.
As a result, thousands of taxi drivers went on a strike on August 1, calling for raise in taxi fare.
The strike started a month-long debate among government, public and taxi companies and ended when by the end of October, it was decided that the waiting fee for cabs would be raised from 2 yuan every five minutes to 2.5 yuan for every four minutes.
But the new charges leave the cab drivers unmoved. To them, the miniscule increase is a mere drop of water that cannot douse the consuming fire that is burning them up.
It is a continuing crisis that may inspire cab drivers like Hai to move again.
"Some of my countrymen left for Sanya in Hainan province), and they keep calling me to join them.
"They say the tourism industry is booming there and taxis use cheap natural gas," says Hai, who is seriously considering his options before he makes the decision to stay because he likes Hangzhou or move to a better life.
"But if I go, there is one thing I will do before leaving: Bring my wife to West Lake for a tour and take lots of pictures."
Beijing: Dilemmas behind the wheel
At 5:45 am, Sun Yongquan shakes off the three hours of sleep he has stolen while parked under Madian Bridge, gulps down a pancake and starts cruising for customers.
This is how the 41-year-old taxi driver, who has already been on duty for 18 of the 24 hours of his shift, begins his Mid-Autumn Festival.
He'll earn about 200 yuan fewer today, as people spend the holiday with their families. About half his usual business comes from ferrying workers between their offices and homes, he says.
"Traffic is great today, even during the 8 am rush hour," he says. "But if every day were like this, I'd be broke."
Sun brings home a little more than 3,000 yuan ($450) a month after paying nearly 3,400 yuan for cab rental and about 9,000 yuan for gas.
He usually gets up at 8:30 am and, starting at noon, works for 24 hours before sleeping 13 hours.
"All I do is work and sleep," he says.
He often naps from about 3 am until 6 am beneath Madian Bridge, a gathering spot for drivers in northern Beijing.
He usually skips breakfast, delays dinner until about 9 pm and has adapted to drinking only a 550-milliliter bottle of water a day to avoid bathroom breaks.
"Life's no fun anymore," says Sun, who used to enjoy fishing and jogging.
"It's out of control."
Such working conditions for drivers, and other factors, including Beijing's restrictions on new license plate issuances, have caused the demand for taxis to outstrip supply, allowing drivers to be picky about their fares.
The Beijing Municipal Committee of Transportation responded to increasing customer complaints by issuing new requirements before September.
Drivers must work despite bad weather, during holidays and refrain from switching shifts during rush hour. Beijing Today reports violators will be "severely punished".
"I'll take any fare but understand drivers who don't want to go short distances or take someone way north of the city if they have to transfer their cab to another cabbie in the South because they might miss their deadline to swap cars," Sun says.
"And some cabbies would rather nap during rush hours, when the road conditions are really bad."
The fine for being the subject of a complaint is 2,000 yuan, Sun says. "That's about two-thirds of my monthly income!"
Illegal or pirate taxis, known as "heiche (black cars)", are proliferating to fill the gap.
A city inspector, who would only give her surname, Gu, explains she spends her workday cracking down on heiche but often must then hire one to get home.
North Taxi Company officer Hu Xuesong tells China Daily the bureau's policies aim to ensure more than 95 percent of the capital's 66,600 cabs are operating at all times.
"We will dispatch more taxis to important locations before special events and will develop specific plans to ensure there are enough cabs on duty if the weather forecast calls for rain or snow," Hu says.
He says his company has received few complaints, but claims that more than 90 percent of calls are from customers hoping to retrieve lost items they left in the vehicles.
Without much prospects on the road on Mid-Autumn Festival morning, Sun decides to clock out early to enjoy a holiday dinner with his family in Yanqing, 74 kilometers from downtown Beijing.
"Usually, public holidays are like any other day for me, except I earn less," he says.
"Of course I can rest anytime I like, but I'll lose money."
The meter on what he owes the taxi company never stops, he says, "so I almost never see my wife and son".
His wife, Xie Shangqin, appreciates the work Sun does to support them.
"He looks run-down and sleepy every time I see him," she says. "His work is so tough. But because he only has a junior middle school education, he has no choice. I keep family problems from him. I don't want him to worry while he's driving around."
It was for his family that Sun took the job. The tuition fees for his son, a middle-school second-grader, are 100 yuan an hour.
In the three months since China Daily first spoke to him, Sun's outlook has changed. He had said then he was proud of his familiarity with the city. "A simple 'thanks' from passengers makes all my hardships worthwhile," he also said. But a few months and too many long hours later, he says: "Chronic pain in my waist and buttocks has killed my passion. I'm numb to passengers' gratitude."
He has lost 10 kilograms in his first three months and started suffering pains and aches in the first few weeks.
"My mother says the first two months as a cabbie added two years to my age," he says. His wife says she hopes he can quit when their son enters university.
"All of the cabbies are driving around totally exhausted," Sun says. "The companies tell us we should mix work with rest. But that's impossible."
The main cause is the hefty rental charges that have Sun on the road far longer than is healthy or safe. The government is paying cab drivers a small subsidy, but it is not enough.
Drivers in Zhejiang's provincial capital Hangzhou won lower rental fees after a three-day strike in August.
Shanghai also lowered the fees in May.
Hu, the Beijing company officer, says there are no plans to lower fees in the capital. Sun believes paying a little more than 2,000 yuan would be more reasonable.
"I hope the government will adopt some measures to relieve our pressure," he says. "That way, we may even get to rest occasionally."