Tougher penalties to put taxi industry on right track

Updated: 2013-01-17 23:43

By ZHENG XIN (China Daily)

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Beijing taxi drivers have reacted angrily to strict new penalties aimed at cleaning up the industry.

According to rules announced by transport authorities, cabbies now face a ban of up to three years for foul play ― or a lifetime ban in extreme cases.

The penalties are for such offenses as purposely ignoring passengers, fixing the meter and bargaining with a commuter over a fare.

Blacklisted drivers will have their licenses revoked for life, the city government said, without elaborating on what would land a driver on the list.

Passengers can report drivers by dialing 96123.

Although intended to put a stop to rogue behavior ― and guarantee that more taxis are available during peak times ― drivers say the punishments are excessive.

"These regulations might be meant to put the industry back on track, but they're way too tough," said veteran cabbie Wan Weidong, who added that taxi companies and authorities already heap pressure on taxi drivers.

For example, he said, to run a taxi during peak hours or severe weather increases the risk of an accident, the cost of which usually falls on the driver.

"A small rear-ender and a whole day's work can go up in smoke," he said. "That's why many think it's not worth taking the chance and stay off duty."

In addition, Wan said, in heavy congestion running a taxi is more like a public service. "Sometimes you spend 20 minutes going 2 kilometers. With the price of fuel rising, you're simply losing money."

Zhou Quanyi, a cabbie in his 40s, said he pays a monthly franchise fee of about 4,500 yuan ($724) and that "an illness or traffic accident would mean I was working for nothing".

Another driver, Wang Shibin, said he often stops for breaks by the roadside after hours of driving. "It's ridiculous that a commuter could complain that I reject passengers and I could be banned," he said.

The city's transport commission and transport law enforcement team jointly devised the penalties.

Regulations urge taxi drivers and companies to strengthen self-monitoring and guarantee taxis are on the road, especially during peak hours and at prosperous business districts, airports and train stations.

"I understand it's difficult to make money as a taxi driver, but at least they should have a professional moral code," said Wang Xiande, a 36-year-old Beijing resident. "It's really annoying when you're ignored several times, especially when you're in a hurry."

Some netizens posting on Sina Weibo, the popular micro-blogging website, were also in support of the penalties.

"They really need to be regulated like this," one wrote. "After all, the taxi industry is a service industry. The taxi companies and drivers cannot only focus on their own interests."

However, Beijing attorney Yi Shenghua said he sympathizes with the drivers.

"These measures are too strict and unfair," he said. "They won't reform the overall management system but only solve the problem in the short term."

If a cabbie has a good reason to reject a passenger, such as they are about to change shift, they should not run the risk of a three-year ban, said the attorney for Yingke Law Firm.

It will also be difficult to obtain evidence of a violation, he said, and warned: "Simply threatening taxi drivers may even result in extreme events."

To fundamentally fix the problem, Wan suggested lowering the driver's monthly fees and increasing the tariff during peak hours.

"It requires the efforts of both individual taxi drivers and taxi companies to crack this nut," he said.

Ou Hailin contributed to this story.