Mr. Wang’s Wild Ride

From Other Lisa…

The Christian Science Monitor features an article today about Beijing’s attempts to “tame its wild taxis” in time for the 2008 Olympics:

Yi is not a real taxi driver – yet. For the next 40 days, he’ll practice again and again, seven hours a day, six days a week at a taxi school here on the outskirts of Beijing. This is where etiquette and English collide with a no-holds-barred street culture that Chinese officials are determined to tame before the 2008 Olympics.

As the China Daily has noted, the quality of service at the Games will make a lasting impression, and that means doing more than “putting forward a bunch of beautiful young ladies in skin-tight cheongsam, wearing programmed smiles to greet guests at hotel entrances, as we often see in China.” It also means not undoing years of urban reengineering in one harried cab ride.

The taxi school faces a considerable challenge:

The number of cars in Beijing has doubled in the past five years or so, meaning that taking to the streets can feel like going to war. Right-on-red morphs into right-whenever-I-feel-like-it. Horsepower rules. Pity the poor pedestrian who believes he has the right of way.

Even more challenging is figuring out where to go. Beijing is changing daily as it undergoes a massive face-lift. Only half the candidates here pass the licensing test on the first try. Geography is often the culprit.

But perhaps there’s hope, if candidates like Tian Chuyan, a young mother, are as good as their words: “I am very excited to become a driver,” she says. And, she adds, “Rudeness won’t happen in Beijing. Taxi driving is a service business, so we will keep people happy.”

Taxi stories, anyone?

The Discussion: 11 Comments

I come home everyday absolutely shattered and nervewrecked after another cycle from work to home. What gets me the most are those red guards they have who ignore the cars breaking every bloody law but have no compunction about blowing whstles and screaming at the typically poor who have no other choice but to use bicycles. My girlfriend respects them as they’re pretty much volunteers she says, but to me they’re peasants who, one dressed in a drab green uniform, think they’re Chiang Kai-Shek.
How’s that for an opening comment?
And to think I gave up the beautiful roads of Ireland and Italia for this mess.

September 3, 2005 @ 9:42 pm | Comment

I was talking to a cabbie in BJ and he told me the way to drive in BJ is just to focus on and worry about what’s in front of you. My translation – just charge straight ahead and all else be damned.

September 4, 2005 @ 12:05 am | Comment

There was a post on Talk Talk China I think not so long ago slagging off BJ taxi drivers. It received a lot of comments, a lot of which also supported the original post.

However, I must say, that I’ve never ever had any kind of problem with BJ taxi drivers. I think I’ve spent well over 5 years total in BJ at various times—though not since 2002.

No, if you ask me, the taxi there make living in BJ convenient. The drivers are polite (at least by Guangzhou standards) usually know the roads are are as cheap as hell.

September 4, 2005 @ 2:26 am | Comment

Also, I don’t want to sound like an old git or anything but does anyone else remember the “little loaves of bread” taxis? The “mian baos” were tiny yellow boxy vans which flooded BJ in the very early 90s. I kuai they were, the cheapest way to get around sprawling BJ.

They were simply banned in the mid-90s I think. I never actually found out why but I think it was something to do with the image of the city or some such rubbish.

September 4, 2005 @ 2:29 am | Comment

I’ve never had a problem with BJ taxi drivers. I’ve had a few who didn’t know the place as well as some of the others, and I’ve definitely had the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” experience on occasion, but mostly they’ve been fine. And friendly. I remember having, or trying to have, some pretty interesting conversations with them when my Chinese was much worse than it is now. I’ve had cabbies say some pretty scathing things about the government that even I could understand…

September 4, 2005 @ 2:29 am | Comment

Thank goodness Lisa, I couldn’t agree more. I really never have had one single problem with a BJ taxi, not one, ever. Therefore reading all those posts on that Talk China site made me wonder how so many others report such nightmare experiences.

Perhaps a language barrier is to blame in some cases?

September 4, 2005 @ 2:40 am | Comment

Well, I’ve had a few problems with taxi drivers in Beijing, and throughout China, on occasion, but it almost always boils down to the driver not being overly familiar with the area I want to go to or me making a mess of the language. Alright, fine, go to areas that attract large numbers of tourists and you will meet arseholes, and airports, train stations and bus stations can be especially trying, but even so it’s not really that difficult to find an honest driver. Sorry, but I found the quotes in this post more than a little overblown.

September 4, 2005 @ 5:33 am | Comment

Similar experiences here in Shanghai.

In 4.5 years, I think a total of two drivers tried to cheat me, although I gather they were much dodgier before I arrived. In fact, several times I’ve actually had drivers voluntarily refund part of my fare because of some mistake they made. Hey, in how many other kinds of Chinese businesses will you ever experience that?

These days I would say the biggest problem is drivers who don’t know the city very well. Just today I had a guy completely flummoxed on where the HanZhong Lu subway station was (he was greatly relieved when I told him I would guide him).

Taxi drivers have a tough job, I try to cut them slack when I can, for instance I never request the late-night discount. Most drivers are men, and work in teams of two per taxi, driving one day on, one off. They usually drive about 20 hours per day, so the next time you think your Shanghai cabbie is nodding off, it’s probably because he is.

For drivers, finding opportunities for potty stops and eating are big problems, on top of the stress of Shanghai traffic, rising gasoline prices, and customers literally playing “backseat driver”. All that for a few thousand kuai a month.

As for the cabs themselves, most are VWs (Santanas, Santana 2000s, Santana 3000s, and a few Passats). In the past year or so I’ve noticed small numbers of other makes, usually Korean or Japanese, along with a few dozen sleek new Mercedes Benz (same price!). The motherland is represented only by a small number of aging HongQi/Red Flags (but at least they have those cool illuminated torch fender markers).

Besides taxis, in Shanghai there are two other kinds of metered vehicles for hire, large new pickup trucks, and the ubiquitous mini-trucks (tiny cab up front, open freight box behind).

Could someone tell me what a “Xiali” is? I always hear they are the chief cab used in Beijing. Are those the little hatchbacks that look something like 1980s Dodge Colts?

Martyn, I once read that the reason the Beijing mianbaos met such a hasty fate was that they were a disproportionately large source of auto pollution. Do I recall correctly that they had two-cycle engines, or was it some other reason that they were particularly dirty polluters?

September 4, 2005 @ 7:12 am | Comment

three cabs in a row without a clue as to where the gulou or zhonglou is… yikes. I know it was at night, thus dark… but seriously.
Beyond that (and airport scum who roll down their 2rmb/km taxi windows.. Not many real problems. (unlike some other cities I’ve seen, where the meter just never seems to work!)

September 4, 2005 @ 10:32 am | Comment

I remember the mianbaos – not from my first stay in Beijing, back then they only had those big black taxis that you had to call ahead for. But I think there were still some around 1999, and you could definitely find them out in the burbs a bit. I’m sure they are still everywhere in the countryside.

September 4, 2005 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

Mianbaos… I almost fell out the back of one of those death machines once! I understand why they were banned…

September 4, 2005 @ 8:30 pm | Comment

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