Taxis to fare well after price change

Updated: 2013-04-15 08:00

By Xu Wei (China Daily)

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Drivers remain cautious over possible outcome of reform

Beijing will adjust taxis' fare system as part of a series of measures to ease the difficulty of hailing a taxi in the capital, the city's top transport official has announced.

The city government is seeking opinions from deputies of the municipal People's Congress, political advisers, transport experts, taxi companies and drivers over the price adjustments, said Liu Xiaoming, director of the Beijing Commission of Transport.

Liu said the reform is aimed at "straightening out the relationship between the fare mechanism and the interest of the industry".

He also hinted at a possible hike in taxi prices. The current taxi fare system in Beijing has been in place for seven years, while the prices in other major cities have been raised at least once during that period.

During the past seven years, the average income of taxi drivers in the capital rose by 15 percent, while Beijing's average income rose by 60 to 70 percent.

"This has resulted in a slump in the industry's attractiveness to employees, and many cabbies are unwilling to work during rush hour due to traffic congestions and high fuel prices," Liu said.

The pricing reform will mainly benefit taxi drivers, he said at a press briefing on Thursday.

The transport commission will also carry out tighter regulations for taxi drivers, including a blacklist of drivers who breached regulations and a system that compensates drivers during harsh weather.

The authority is also considering attracting better-educated staff to the industry, as 80 percent of the taxi drivers are former farmers from the city's suburban areas.

A public hearing on the price adjustments could also be held the Beijing Commission of Development and Reform. According to regulations, the hearing could take about 45 days.

The fare adjustment could be in place by June, Beijing Times reported, citing industry insiders.

Despite the possible price hike, many taxi drivers remained cautious about the possible outcome of the reform.

Jiang Mingsheng, who has been a taxi driver for more than 30 years, said he was concerned about whether the possible price hike would affect the number of passengers.

"It would take some time for the market to absorb the rise in prices and the number of passengers could slump in the first days when the new pricing plan takes effect," he said.

Jiang hopes the reform takes the possible slump in number of passengers into consideration and, for a time, reduces the amount of the leasing or administration fees charged by taxi companies, which is usually more than 5,000 yuan ($807) per month for each taxi.

The capital is also considering increasing the number of taxis, especially in suburban areas, and will take measures to encourage cabbies to work during rush hour, including issuing fuel subsidies based on the hours the taxi is in operation.

A much higher percentage of taxis in the city will operate in 24-hour shifts shared between two drivers in order to maintain a certain number of taxis in downtown areas during rush hour, Liu said.

Meanwhile, the city will establish a united service hotline for calling taxis. Beijing currently has at least two service hotlines run by different taxi companies.

"Our goal is to make sure a commuter has a 99 percent chance of booking a taxi successfully four hours in advance and a 70 to 80 percent chance half an hour in advance," he said.

The city will build 20 taxi dispatch points in downtown and CBD areas such as Wangfujing pedestrian street and Beijing Financial Street, and 600 taxi stops citywide outside residential communities, Liu said.

The difficulty of getting taxis during rush hour in Beijing started to surface as the city's population expanded by 4.36 million in the past five years while the number of taxis stayed put at 66,000.

Jin Haixing contributed to this story.

(China Daily 04/15/2013 page5)