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Striking cabbies back to work in Yinchuan
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-05 01:39

A taxi driver puts a sign readying "out of service, for private use only" in his car during the strike in Yinchuan, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. [cctv]
Taxi operations in Yinchuan had returned to normal by and large on Tuesday after a four-day-long cabbies' strike since July 30, a local newspaper reported.

The citywide walkout, involving more than 4,000 cabs, led to a total breakdown of taxi business in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in Northwest China.

Two new local regulations which limit the time span of taxi operation licences are thought to have touched off the strike.

The two regulations, which were announced on July 28 and had been planned to take effect on August 1, were revoked by the local government on July 31.

Local government officials explained that the taxi business was put on the market in the late 1990s and people could get a five-year operation by bidding for it.

Operation terms for the first batch of taxi owners were due to expire this year, and drivers staged a small strike in March, arguing that operations should be allowed to continue as long as they paid for them.

Bai Jianping, secretary-general of the Yinchuan city government, said the government had held many conferences on the matter since March, soliciting opinions from people concerned, and finally drawing up the regulations.

These state that a further five years' will be available when the old one expires.

The charge for each taxi is 3,600 yuan (US$435) a year. Taxi owners have to pay 18,000 yuan (US$2,176) in one lump sum for the five years, according to the regulations.

But many taxi operators were still dissatisfied with the regulations and launched the strike.

Bai claimed that setting a time limit on licences was meant to help regulate the development of the taxi sector, preventing a galloping expansion of the industry.

He said taxi operations were a kind of public resource and should not be kept permanently by a certain group, but many people did not have a clear understanding on this.

He said the government would organize further investigations and wider discussions, asking for more opinions from the public.

A public hearing will also be held to help reach a decision on the issue, said Bai.

During the four-day-long strike, some taxi drivers, stirred up by a handful of troublemakers, smashed up more than 40 cabs that were still operating, said local police.

The police have arrested four people who allegedly instigated others to cause the disturbances.

Chinese Criminal Law says that anyone who sabotages traffic order can be sentenced to as many as five years' imprisonment.

There are more than 4,500 taxis in Yinchuan, and most of them are owned by individuals who are affiliated to 23 taxi companies.

The municipal government has dispatched special work teams to each of the companies, explaining the necessity of the policies to the car owners and inviting their opinions, said the newspaper.

Top leaders in the city have also had talks with the taxi operators and drivers.

The newspaper said many taxi drivers were glad to resume operations and hoped the issue could be solved.

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