“One day work like a robot, next day sleep like a vegetable.” That’s how one of Shanghai’s 50,000 taxi drivers described his gruelling schedule on the city’s streets. Following his twenty-hour shift, he drops off the Volkswagen Santana and grabs some much-needed rest.
Taxi drivers are also feeling the inflationary pinch, with the rising cost of fuel eating into their incomes, just as increases in the CPI in general are pushing up their cost of living.
Cabbbies in Hangzhou were fed up enough in early August to go on strike. “Ten years ago, taxi drivers belonged to the high income bracket. Now we have become part of the low income group,” one local driver complained to Oriental Morning Post.
As many as two thirds of the city’s taxis switched off their engines during the industrial action, reports Southern Weekly. Drivers were back behind the wheel a few days later, but the stand-off led to tense scenes in the city. At one point a police station was blockaded, leading to a number of arrests.
The authorities in Shanghai will be hoping that a fare hike it introduced in August will prevent similar trouble.
Starting fares were increased from Rmb12 to Rmb14 but drivers say that this is not enough, especially as the government has withdrawn a petrol subsidy scheme worth Rmb60 a day.
One driver told International Finance News that the cost of fuel for a day’s work three years ago was Rmb200. Now it is Rmb350, meaning a drop in monthly income of at least Rmb1,000, despite the increase in fares.
Drivers complain that other costs also need to be addressed, as fare increases will hit demand, worsening the situation.
Also an issue is the fee that drivers pay the taxi company, currently between Rmb340 and Rmb360 a day in Shanghai.
“Business is difficult, not to mention after the price increase,” said driver Li. “We just hope the [daily fee] comes down.”
It’s not hard to see why drivers resent the daily fee. The companies that dominate Shanghai’s taxi industry are still profitable. Shanghai Haibo Taxi Company, known for its blue cars, made Rmb137 million last year.
The drivers have limited opportunity for redress. “Taxi drivers can’t participate in the drafting of policies relating to them, and can’t protect their rights through the courts or labour unions, which means they have no choice but to go on strike,” Guo Yushan, a researcher at Transition Institute, a think tank, told the Financial Times.
“If the system doesn’t change, the strikes will continue in different cities,” Guo warned.
Elsewhere, cabbies have been forced into finding second jobs, reducing their rest periods. The Beijing media reports that many of its own taxi drivers are now operating businesses on the side, as well. This means there are fewer taxis on the road, a major inconvenience for residents.
But getting more taxis onto Beijing’s streets with the promise of further fare hikes looks unlikely for now, as the policy line from the top is that prices in general are to be kept as stable as possible.
Cabbies may grumble about the unfairness of their lot (common to their profession the world over, it seems) but it looks like more long days on low pay on the road ahead.
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