Sunday, 16 March 2008

Shanghai Taxi

I felt that a Blog with a title like “Carry on Cabby” should have at least one article devoted to the much maligned taxi industry. But as my knowledge of the UK taxi industry tends to revolve around never finding one when you really need one, trying to avoid small talk during the journey and then taking out a third mortgage to pay for the service.
I figured, I would follow my mom’s advice “If you don’t have anything good to say – don’t say anything!”
So as an alternative I thought I would mix a bit of news from China with as many taxi stories I could find from the last 2 weeks newspapers here in Shanghai.

I should mention that like most major city’s (London excluded!) Shanghai has a horrendous taxi problem; Shanghai has approximately 45,000 taxis, operated by over 150 taxi companies. This supports a population of over 20 million, which swells uncontrollably during both Chinese holidays, and from foreign visitors. The most renowned place to try and catch a taxi is Hongqiao Airport, which for anyone landing there on a cold winters night, after a 3 hour flight from Shenyang sitting next to a throat clearing, garlic stinking, pistachio eating, bogey flicking, flatulent peasant will know the horror of the Taxi queue that awaits your exit from the airport!

Taxi drivers tend to work 17 hours a day, and earn 4-5,000 rmb a month (about 350 quid!). They are not exactly known for their personal or vehicle hygiene, and if they don’t like the look of you they will pretend that your talking Swahili and that they have never heard of Peoples Square, Pudong, or even Shanghai! Getting one to stop is only half the battle, they pick and choose whom they will pick up even then they may not take you to where you want go – talk about “this side of the river”.
Yet despite all of this they are synonymous with what makes this city great – fast, frantic and ferocious.

As with all cash industry’s they become the target of organized crime, and the dregs of humanity start to squeeze whatever morsel they can out of a profession that struggles to hold its head up high. Shanghai has tried to fight back against these unscrupulous gangs, which has lead to a couple of high profile cases in China during the last week.

One of the initiatives has been to target gangs preying on newly arrived tourists and business people – “EIGHT Shanghai-based taxi drivers have been detained over a frightening fraud scheme, mainly targeting foreigners, that involved using threats and, in some cases, stand-over men, to charge passengers exorbitant fees. The traffic law-enforcement team, the taxi industry watchdog, yesterday announced the eight cabbies had been apprehended after a two-month undercover operation that was helped enormously by cooperation from affected passengers. The eight suspects were involved in 13 extortion cases, involving illegal income of up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,038). The watchdog also impounded ten taxis used for extortion purposes and drivers involved face criminal charges. In response to complaints from duped passengers, the taxi watchdog formed a task force and focused the crackdown campaign on city transport-hub areas, including railway stations, airports and the Longyang Road Maglev Station. The Maglev station, leading to Pudong International Airport, has long been a spot where foreign passengers have reported being swindled by both legal and illegal cabbies”.

However with every initiative comes a dark side: this story featured only days after the success story ran.

“THE death of a woman who was brutally killed last Friday as an undercover agent for the taxi watchdog. Chen Sujun, 33, was stabbed dead at the end of her part-time shift on Friday in Touqiao Town, suburban Fengxian District. The 21-year-old illegal taxi driver, Lei Qingwen, stabbed her chest and throat when a watchdog team surrounded his vehicle, banged on the windows and told him to get out of the car. Lei faced a maximum penalty of 50,000 yuan (US$7,036) for this, a repeat offense as he had already paid 10,000 yuan in fines after being caught the first time. Sources from the taxi watchdog yesterday said the driver attacked the woman out of rage. The young man was the major breadwinner for his family and was getting married in May. He was still paying off the debt he had incurred to buy the Chery sedan. Insiders said management was considering compensation for the woman's family”.

A tragic story, which shows just how violent this society can become.

If after all of that you decide that Taxi’s aren’t for you, and that you would be better off using the train you might want to read this one before making your journey:

“RAILWAY police yesterday said they would punish a Guizhou Province farmer who was caught with a suitcase of pornographic novels and movies at Shanghai Railway Station. Police said the farmer claimed he watched and read pornographic material every day and reviewed each one. Police alleged he also said he loved practicing the moves he learnt from books and movies with his fiancée. A patrol officer stopped the 30-year-old farmer yesterday. He was about to board a train back home to get married. The police officer became more suspicious when hearing loud noises from items clanging about in his suitcase. Police found 33 porn novels, six disks of sex movies as well as a notebook filled with his personal reviews. Police said Chen was not a trader of porn products. He allegedly told police they were just a part of his personal collection and that he was hoping to publish his reviews. "Traveling with pornographic products is not allowed by law," a railway police officer said”.
You have been warned!


erik van ingen schenau said...

Hi Paul, I know westerners don't like to sit in the bus, but from Hongqiao you can take the city bus to the metro (the ringline up there or the line going into the city) and you have good connections with the city. I know the metro can be full, but it's better to be 15 minutes in a full metro than waiting for hours in a queue (and see other people not respecting the queue).
What I want to ask you: can you write something about your job, what can we expect and when, how is LTI progressing at the Huapu factory? Greetings and good luck, Erik.

Paul Stowe said...

Thanks for the advice Eril - I have to be honest and say that I don't often have a problem, as I always drive to the airport now - and my car is waiting for me when I arrive!
As for an update on our progress - all should be revealed at the Beijing Auto Show, I will of course be 'Blogging" my account of the show and our presence there for everyone to read.

Thanks again Erik. - hope you are well?