Free rides costing Shanghai bus firms
Counterfeit coins and other coin-like tokens are bringing about losses in the millions to bus operators in Shanghai and industry regulators say only the improvement of local residents' morals can change the situation.
Since the appearance of buses without conductors in the city less than 10 years ago, the operators have faced the problem of receiving spurious coins as drivers are unable to judge what passengers throw into money-collecting boxes.
Shanghai bashi Yiqi Company, for example - one of the subsidiaries under the city's major bus operator Shanghai Bashi Industrial (Group) Co Ltd - receives fake coins, false notes and tokens, which look like one-yuan coins, totaling about 700 yuan (US$84) every day or 255,500 yuan each year.
Though the loss is small compared with Bashi Yiqi's total daily turnover of around 830,000 yuan, "it adds up to a big loss for our company extrapolated over the whole year," said an official surnamed Dai, who is responsible for ticketing affairs at Bashi Yiqi. "Nobody will compensate our losses."
The company now operates more than 1,300 buses on 47 routes, mainly in the city's northeastern sector such as Yangpu District.
It's usually hard for bus drivers to recognize fake coins or coin-like tokens when passengers throw coins into boxes nearby the drivers.
"Even if I feel that the coins are not real, it's impossible for me to stop and argue with the passengers," said bus driver Zhang Xin, 40. "Police will come over and fine me if my delay on the road causes a traffic slowdown."
In addition to spurious coins, bus operators also receive tokens used by video game players. They look like one-yuan coins but are worth 60 to 70 percent less.
"Some waste recycling stations or even game arcades operators call us to buy these coins," said Dai. "We refused and sent them to be melted at steel factories to avoid their circulation again."
As the city is gradually turning its buses into self-paying vehicles and more buses in Shanghai are running without conductors to collect fees, industry officials say they are also stepping up measures to install public transportation card readers.
Thus far, about 9,000 buses, 64 percent of the city's total, have been equipped with card readers and officials vowed to complete installing the machines on all buses running within the city's Inner Ring Road.
"We hope that more people will be well disciplined by themselves," said Dai. "The situation has already improved as we found less fake coins than before when buses first started allowing passengers to pay by throwing coins in the box in the early 1990s."