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Taxi drivers hail reforms

(Global Times)

13:21, April 18, 2013

Taxi drivers who refuse to stop for passengers while on duty could be blacklisted as part of sweeping changes poised to take effect over the next two years. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Beijing's traffic regulator has announced major reforms over the next two years that aim to improve the service and presence of taxis in the city.

Fares will increase overall and fluctuate based on fuel prices to ensure more stable earnings for drivers, the Municipal Commission of Transport said in a Tuesday press release.

The regulator also said a booking hotline for passengers will be developed, adding that contracts between taxi drivers and their companies will be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure the steady growth of drivers' incomes.

The reforms aim to ensure at least 80 percent of Beijing's taxis, or roughly 50,000 cabs, operate during rush hours when they are in highest demand.

A taxi driver, surnamed Zhang, welcomed the new round of reforms as a necessary step toward reviving the industry.

"A fare hike is necessary for us as drivers because we have been using the same pricing system since 2006 despite soaring fuel prices," said the 44-year-old, adding that contract flexibility would ensure fewer cabbies leave the profession.

The Economic Observer reported earlier this month that the number of taxi drivers in Beijing has steadily dropped over the past two years, with just half of 200,000 licenses citywide being used.

"I'm looking forward to seeing some more sympathetic clauses in our contracts. Taxi drivers have no sick leave, yet we must pay a fixed monthly fee to our companies. If we fall ill and can't work, we still have to pay this fee. As a result, many of us work while we're ill," Zhang said.

Beijing currently has several booking hotlines for different taxi companies. The regulator aims to establish a call center for a unified hotline covering "99 percent of all taxis" in the city, the press release stated.

Another taxi driver, surnamed Li, said he hopes fares can be recalculated to charge more for time rather than just distance.

"Current fares are far too cheap. Some people take taxis instead of public transport to destinations only a couple of kilometers away to do shopping or other chores," said Li, 42.

"It's convenient for them, but troublesome for us if we become trapped in a traffic jam."

Li said taxis shouldn't be viewed as the "first choice of transportation" in the city, insisting they should serve people who have little alternative but to use them.

The Global Times polled seven Beijing residents Wednesday, with all agreeing it was reasonable to increase fares from 2 to 2.5 yuan ($0.30-$0.40) per kilometer.

New fare figures were not listed in the press release, although last week local media reported the flag-fall could increase from 10 to 15 yuan.

Sun Bingfen, a 29-year-old insurance saleswoman, said one change she would like to see is punishment for taxi drivers who refuse passengers.

The regulator stated taxi drivers who refuse to accept passengers or use their meter face being "blacklisted from Beijing's taxi industry," although did not specify how such a crackdown would be enforced.

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