How to pass your next taxi audition

Updated: 2013-02-08 09:11

By Keoni Everington (华武杰) (The World of Chinese)

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How to pass your next taxi audition
Rush hour in Beijing is an especially difficult time to hail a taxi. Provided to China Daily

Long gone are the days of my youth in Beijing when yellow hoards of 面包车 (miànbāochē,bread-shaped minivans) swarmed around the city like locusts eager to swoop up passengers. Nowadays, most of the time, when I'm trying to hail a taxi (打的,dǎdi) in Beijing, a mini audition of sorts occurs.

Most drivers with the 空车 (kōngchē, empty cab) sign on now have that thousand yard-stare and ignore all pedestrians entirely (including those in front of them), but for those who are entertaining the thought of possibly picking up passengers, something really annoying happens. They slow down almost to the point of stopping to take a quick look at you and decide whether or not they deem you worthy of gracing their presence in the cab. If they don't like what they see, they will quickly floor the accelerator and speed off in search of more suitable prey.

Based on years of humiliating denials, I've created a list of common reasons why cabbies blow off would-be customers.

Audition point deductions:

Being a foreigner.

Being old.

Being disabled.

Having a child.

Being in a group of four or more.

Carrying luggage.

Having a child with a stroller.

Hailing a cab in the opposite direction that you are planning on going.

Hailing a cab in the opposite direction that the taxi driver lives.

Trying to go a distance that is too short.

Trying to go a distance that is too long.

Trying to take a taxi during a two hour radius of the sacred 4 pm shift change (交班儿, jiāobānr).

The reason taxi drivers are so surly is because, each month, they must pay 9,500 yuan ($1,500; 1,100 euros) in vehicle rental and management fees (份子钱,fènziqián) to their taxi company, so each day they need to earn 316 yuan and that breaks down to 40 yuan per hour.

However, because of the high cost of fuel (油钱,yóuqián) and the low rate per mile of the fares , 10 yuan for the first 3 kilometers (起步费,qǐ bù fèi) and 2 yuan for each subsequent kilometer, it is cost prohibitive to carry customers during rush hour.

If they take people during rush hour (上下班高峰时间,shàng xià bān gāofēng shíjiān), the amount of fuel they burn sitting in traffic with a customer may cost them more than they earn from the fare.

This results in ridiculous scenes at the height of rush hour of secluded lots with taxis lined up as far as the eye can see with the drivers sleeping in their cars.

Theoretically, refusing passengers

(拒载,jùzǎi) is against the law. However, I have yet to hear of this threat having any effect. They conveniently fear laws if they can be used as an excuse to not take you somewhere, like "taxis can't stop here", "only four passengers allowed", and "that road is only one-way during certain hours" and ad infinitum.

There are certain locations in the city such as the major train stations where most of the cabs are illegal heiche (黑车, black cabs) because there is such a high number of people in need of taxis. The black cabs charge rates many times higher than the standard rate. A simple 10 yuan ride, suddenly becomes 50 yuan or higher.

Many licensed cabs take advantage of the situation and refuse to take passengers unless they go off the meter and charge an exorbitant rate as well.

There will also be little jerry-built three-wheeled tin cans called bengbengr (蹦蹦儿) laying in wait for you. They will often try to charge the unwitting foreigner 30 yuan, but not only are they too expensive for the short distances they are capable of, they are death traps on wheels. They are not designed to take an impact from an actual automobile and are the source of many injuries from even minor collisions.

Since the 1990s, the number of taxis in Beijing has remained unchanged at 68,000 for the entire city. Yet during the same time, the population has nearly doubled from 12 million to 20 million and the number of cars on the road has increased to 5 million.

The policy of requiring taxi drivers to register with taxi companies and pay monthly vehicle rental and management fees started in the 1990s as an attempt to regulate the market, but the result is a small number of companies holding a monopoly in the city, and many other Chinese cities for that matter.

Some people say a relaxation on the issuance of taxi licenses to increase the number of taxis on the road and stimulate competition can solve the problem. But, the situation is not going to get better for the time being. So here is a list of some tricks of the trade.

Tips to pass your audition:

Refer to the driver as 师傅 (shīfu, master) to butter him up.

Foreigners should hide while a Chinese friend hails the cab.

Hide children and strollers.

Hide your luggage.

Only hail taxis in the direction you're sure to go.

If there are two or more of you, have each of you stand on opposite sides of the street.

Sit down inside the taxi as soon as possible and close the door.

Have the name of your destination in large print in Chinese.

Call a taxi driver that you've already gotten the phone number of.

Western hotels are one of the

better places to find readily available taxis.

Approach a taxi outside a local restaurant. Fed taxi drivers are happy taxi drivers.

Don't stand on the highway or busy streets where it is impossible for the driver to stop. Stand by connecting side streets and the corners.

Rain, snow, public holidays, are all a no-go, especially if it involves the Third Ring Road which is jammed completely in the rain.

Get your game face on! Don't think that because you got there first you will get the taxi before the person next to you.

Ultimately, there is a high probability that despite all of the advice I have given, you still won't be able to get a taxi. You should consider alternate forms of transport such as the new subway lines (地铁,dìtiě) that have opened up and Beijing's extensive bus network.

If you search the desired address in Baidu maps, you have the option of selecting the 公交 (gōngjiāo,public transportation) tab directly beneath the address of your point of origin and destination. With more than 800 routes, you will find that there is almost always some bus line that will go from practically anywhere to anywhere in Beijing.

With 5 million cars in Beijing, you're bound to have friends that have cars at this point, so you can also consider carpooling with them in advance.

Renting cars (租车,zūchē) over the weekend is another relatively inexpensive option if you have managed to obtain a Chinese driver's license (驾照,jiàzhào;本儿,běnr).

During rush hour, the good old-fashioned bicycle (自行车,zìxíngchē)is the best way to travel short distances quickly.

Courtesy of The World of Chinese,