Shanghai targets empty cabs for traffic woes
The Shanghai municipal government plans to endorse new measures on taxis to relieve the worsening traffic situation.
Passengers will have to call a hotline or go to a particular taxi calling point to get a taxi in the future.
These measures will be supported by a network which will monitor and direct over 45,000 taxis and 360 taxi parking sites throughout the city.
Over 10,000 taxi calling points will be available in Shanghai within the next five years.
A Global Positioning System (GPS) will be added to each taxi and a better communication and security system will be available as the network is established.
All of the 45,000 taxis in Shanghai will join the network by 2007 and according to the local transportation bureau, a basic network will be put into use this year which will cover 4,000 taxis.
"Raising a hand to beckon a taxi has many disadvantages. The taxi for hire without passengers occupies the road and the taxi drivers are prone to fatigue and carelessness," said Bian Baipin, director of the local transportation bureau.
"The disadvantages also include fuel waste and environmental pollution," said Bian.
The statistics from the bureau show that a taxi will run 350 kilometres a day on average and over 45 per cent of the taxis on the road are empty at any given time.
"Stopping to pick up and drop off passengers affects traffic and accidents are likely to occur, too," he said.
Doubts arose as the new measures were announced and most of the worry come from the passengers.
"It will be really terrible if the line to call the taxi is busy. The taxi is easy to call if I have urgent business, but if the new measures are implemented, I will waste a lot of time making the call and waiting for the taxi to come," said Qian Jinyue, an official from a foreign-venture company based in Shanghai.
The local transportation bureau explained that the future calling system would guarantee that getting a taxi will be as convenient as it is now.
"We will employ enough staff for the hotlines and if the line is busy, the passengers can turn to the over 10,000 calling points to hail a taxi," said Yang Changhai, the director of the taxi management office of the bureau.
"The taxi will reach passengers in three minutes," said Yang.
But the problem is if the 360 parking centres are enough to cover Shanghai and reach any place in three minutes.
"It isn't likely the parking centres will be able to be built in crowded downtown areas but the downtown is our key area to pick up passengers. I wonder if we can reach the passenger in three minutes even without the worsening congestion in Shanghai," said Wu Qimin, a taxi driver from Chongming County.
"I have to walk a long way to reach the calling point. If I have much luggage to carry, that will be a real problem," said Zhang Qing, an elderly passenger.
Another problem is training the drivers who will respond to GPS, video and speakers instead of the smiling faces and waving hands of passengers.
The price of a taxi ride in the city could go up soon if the new measures are implemented.
Taxi passengers pay 10 yuan (US$1.20) for three kilometres now but under the new measures the same 10 yuan will cover only 2.5 kilometres.
An additional fee will be charged to book a taxi online or by telephone.
The city's transportation bureau will hold a meeting this month or early next month for representatives of the government, taxi companies, drivers and experts to discuss the price hike.
"We are making regulations on the taxi fees because the increasing fuel prices have caused big costs to the taxi drivers. The price rise also takes the profit of taxi companies into account," said Bian.
The city has experienced three big fuel price adjustments this year. The price of No. 93 petroleum is 3.37 yuan (41 US cents) per litre, up from 3.23 yuan (39 US cents) per litre. The No. 90 petroleum, which is widely used by taxis, tops 3.42 yuan (42 US cents), up from 2.94 yuan (35 US cents).
A large number of taxis in Shanghai use liquefied natural gas, which has increased by 0.5 yuan (6 US cents) per litre.
"The cost to taxi drivers has increased by 20 yuan (US$2.4) a day and it is a real burden for the drivers," said Bian.
The question is whether the increased taxi fare will offset the fuel cost.
"We are not sure if the price adjustment will work to lower the cost to drivers, because the higher price may reduce the number of passengers," said Meng Zuyao, vice-general manager of Shanghai Qiangsheng Taxi Company.
Most taxi drivers shared the same worry. "It is not a good idea to raise taxi fares. If the passengers become fewer, the loss will be bigger than that caused by the fuel price rise," said Zhang Jianguo, who drives for Shanghai Dazhong Taxi Company.
Their worry has some merit. According to a survey made by Shanghai-based Market-Expert Marketing Research Company, half of the 245 citizens sampled did not agree with the new measures to raise taxi fares and nearly 40 per cent of these people said they would refuse to take a taxi if fares increase.
Experts warn the potential reduction in the number of passengers may exacerbate the situation and suggest that taxi companies should help shoulder the load instead of putting all the burden on the taxi drivers and finally the passengers.
"We have several different regulations on taxi fares under discussion. The taxi companies, drivers and passengers should shoulder the burden together. The government attaches great importance to the problem and we are open to any suggestions and ideas," said Bian.
One solution is for taxi companies to decrease their cut from the taxi driver. But the suggestion faces opposition from taxi companies.
Both the calling system and the increase in taxi fares made by the government have left the taxi companies in a dilemma.
"We know we should also share the responsibility of bearing the rising fuel price. But we also have our own troubles. In the past two years, we have experienced a sharp reduction in income, even though cars are cheaper," said Meng Zuyao.
Meng did not comment on the new taxi calling system.
"We hope we have taxis to take in the future and the taxi drivers will not lose their jobs," said Meng.