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Villagers Take the Wheel in Capital's Cabs

By Caitlin Coyle, an intern from American University in Washington.


Source: Anhome



An article in the week's EO described the recent trend of Beijing taxi drivers quitting their jobs, only to be replaced by drivers originating from the suburbs of the city. The title of the article roughly translates to “The Disappearance of the Talkative Drivers” alluding to the former reputation of Beijing cab drivers to be talkative while on the job. Their suburban replacements do not seem to share this trait.

For myself, as a study abroad student who is constantly taking cabs, I often encounter talkative cab drivers during the day. However, at night there has been a far more disturbing trend of drivers falling asleep at the wheel. This has not been a unique experience; several other students have come back at night telling stories of shaking cab drivers who dozen off at the wheel. I myself this weeekend had to yell at the driver at a red light to wake him up. After asking him if he was tired, he replied he had been awake for the past 15 hours, and driving for the past 10.

My experience could be explained by recent trends in the taxi industry. The EO's article contrasts the stories of two men. One is a farmer from Miyun County, a suburb of Beijing, who has been working as a taxi driver in Beijing for the past three months. His small village has at least 60 people working as taxi drivers within Beijing. Currently, 90% of all Beijing taxi drivers originate from the suburbs of the city. According to the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, there are 67,000 registered taxicabs in Beijing, recent research shows that, amound the drivers of these cabs, the ratio of city dwellers to outsiders is 1:4. The ratio was 2:3 in 2006. Local urban drivers have been increasingly leaving the industry due to low profits and long hours.

For example, Wang He became a taxi driver in 1994. At that time, Beijing’s roads were in good condition and gas prices were much lower, resulting in a decent income for taxi drivers. Most drivers were from the immediate urban area. At the time they only had to work 8 hours a day to make a reasonable income. However, in 2000 the taxi policy changed. The government became less involved with regulation, and cars became owned by companies, while management was entrusted to the driver.

As prices rose, Wang extended his hours to 12 hours a day. He began looking for an alternative. At the end of 2009, he had saved up enough money to buy a compact car and started work as a “black cab driver.” According to Wang, since Beijing is rapidly developing, but transportation is not necessarily keeping up, there is a large market for black cabs. With regular customers, he makes more money now than if he was still working for a cab company.

Stories such as Wang's have resulted in the suburbanization of the taxi industry in Beijing. However, with little reform to the taxi industry, problems are only increasing. Since the late 1990s, the number of taxis in Beijing has barely grown; therefore the demand far exceeds the supply. While there is not a lack of taxi drivers, these drivers are still working exceedingly long hours. Combined with the commute from the suburbs, which adds several hours to the day, it is not surprising that taxi drivers are not talking as much.



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