HONG KONG—Hundreds of taxi drivers in southeastern China have staged a strike in protest against government inaction on shutting down “black taxis” or unregistered cabs, according to strikers and local government officials.
One taxi driver, who declined to give his name, said that more than 800 protesters drove their taxis to the front of Yancheng City Hall in Jiangsu province Monday, demanding local authorities crack down on the illegal operators who were causing them to lose business.
“We can’t get customers now because they are being grabbed up by black cabs. The black cabs are driven by disabled people and their minimum charge is only five yuan (U.S. $0.70). That is too cheap,” the driver said.
“Driving a taxi is a profitable business, but it is hard to get an operator’s license from the government. Those disabled people want to make money [anyway].”
Another driver surnamed Chen said that not only do unregistered taxi drivers lack licenses, but many lack drivers’ licenses too.
“Nonetheless, they dare to openly operate on the roads,” Chen said.
“We’ve reported this problem many times, but the relevant management turned a deaf ear to our complaints. Even the city government doesn’t want to tackle the problem and has neglected their duties for almost two months since we brought it up,” he said.
According to the taxi drivers, black cabs are often privately owned cars that have been remodeled to appear as normal taxis.
They complained that the drivers of unregistered cabs often lack insurance, leaving passengers with little recourse for compensation in the event of an accident.
Strike leads to scuffle
Authorities in Yancheng dispatched a number of police officers on Monday, including special police, to deal with the cab drivers at city hall. The two sides scuffled, but no one was injured during the confrontation.
“The police wanted to take away several demonstrators, but we stopped them,” said another driver who asked not to be named.
Another driver, surnamed Zhang, added that after police had arrived on the scene, the strikers destroyed a black cab which happened to pass by.
“There were between 30 and 40 police, and a conflict was inevitable. But no one got wounded. We surrounded a black cab and smashed it,” Zhang said.
An employee at the Yancheng city government answered a telephone call on Tuesday and confirmed that the incident had taken place.
“There were many [cab drivers] coming yesterday, but today is all normal,” said the employee, who refused to provide his name.
The employee refused to provide an estimate of the number of strikers on Monday, saying only that there had been “some of them.”
Zhang said that the government had promised on Monday to address the concerns of the taxi drivers.
“We waited until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. and an official finally replied by saying they would answer our calls within three days,” Zhang said.
Other cab drivers said that a local television station covered their demonstration on Monday, but that the report was never aired.
“The TV crew went to the scene but they didn’t broadcast [the story]. We are not happy about this,” a driver said.
Taxi strikes common
Taxi drivers have been quick to organize strikes in China, particularly against the backdrop of the recent global economic crisis.
In November 2008, more than 400 cabbies in central China’s Hubei province held a strike at the Suizhou city railway station for several days after being informed that their operating costs were set to increase.
The drivers were required to pay a fee of 4,000 yuan (about U.S. $500) by the end of the year or face confiscation of their licenses.
Suizhou drivers make only about 100 yuan (U.S. $12) a day, and said the charge would virtually wipe out any profits they would accrue by the end of the year.
The Suizhou dispute followed similar strikes by taxi drivers in Chongqing, Sanya, Maoming, Yongfeng, Shantou, and Maoming, in which drivers complained of illegal competition, excessive fees, local government monopolies, and threats to their personal safety.
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.