Taxi drivers drive inflation higher

Updated: 2011-10-31 12:18


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In the last four months since the petrol price went up, there had been various stories about the taxi drivers and these were mainly related to the underpay and overwork issues.

The net income of these people depends on the profit splitting agreed with the taxi companies plus the expenses of the petrol, insurance and penalty costs. It works out that on a single trip of 60 rmb, the drivers may be lucky enough to make 5 rmb. It is common that these drivers have to wait at the airport for 2 or 3 hours before they can pick up one customer. Worse, if they pick up someone who goes to the destination within 20 kilometers perimeter, these drivers actually lose money because of the time that they spend in the 2 to 3 hours queue. It is a loss in the opportunity cost and it is a draw of luck too.

They make good, clean and hard earned money; I do have sympathy and high respect for them as they have so many issues to deal with. However, instead of voicing their opinions through proper and correct channels, they resort to unethical means and help drive the inflation higher. Every week, I have to go to the airport to travel interstate or overseas for work. Therefore, my personal experience and observation of the driving behaviour and manner of the taxi drivers in Beijing are very much accurate.

Ninety nine percents of taxi drivers had always been courteous and well-mannered, they chatted about everything from the steam buns, Peking Duck to Great Wall and Chinese history. Before, when they heard me want to go to YanSha (3rd ring road), they might ask me to lie to those ticket inspectors that the taxi went to WangJin which was shorter in distance from the airport. In this way, they would get a “no need to queue” ticket when they returned to the airport. Hopefully, they could pick up some “long distance” customers. It was fair enough for me, and I could understand the reason behind this. This was a minor white lie in my opinion.

Things have changed so much in last 2 months. I first noticed the difference in the manner when one driver asked me if I could get the airport shuttle bus instead. He complained that YanSha was not ‘far’ enough for him to make enough money, and he started the bombardment of his sufferings like a mosquito flying around my ears. I could only turn on my Blackberry to ignore the comments. On another occasion, the driver was speeding on the Airport Freeway at 140 km and he was overtaking every car in sight, changing lanes as if no one could be in his way. I had the feeling that he wanted me to beg him to slow down and succumbed to his annoyance of travelling so short distance.

Over the weeks, the sickening manners and actions escalated, more and more drivers picked up their mobile phones 2 minutes after I sat in the car. They pretended there was someone else on the other line, and they said very loudly and emptily to the phone that, “I just picked up someone one who wanted to go to YanSha, what a bummer!” Before, I would never hear or experience these types of silly acts, poor manners and verbal abuses. I strongly believe that these drivers work in collusion, the tactics are well thought of. The strategies are used differently according to the types of customers whom they pick up at the airport. To make them happy, an extra of 25 rmb would be nice. However, this ‘extra’ should be a willing act from the customers, instead of them succumbing to the ransoming and abuses that they may experience. In fact, this 25 rmb is still not as expensive as a cup of Latte or Milkshake at Starbucks.

At the same time, I wonder if it would happen to the local Beijingers. Maybe not, it must be my poor Mandarin and the drivers know that I am an easy target. I try to work it out; another 25 rmb on a 75 rmb trip will be a strong 33% increase. Based on eighty thousand taxis on the road, this represents another 0.01% percent increase in CPI release in the fourth quarter if they all pick up the customers from the airport.

On the other hand, these drivers deserve a pay rise. It is about time that the fare starts at 15 rmb and a higher rate for the travelling distance too. Or, we can have a certain fixed rate for shorter distance customers to and from the airport, these are better and fairer ways for all parties. I wish the smile during the Olympics in 2008 will come back and the smile shows on each face of the taxi drivers. In the meantime, I have to pick my drivers who look older and more sincere, because I think they are the only one who deserve the "extra".

Henri Lee via email