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Striking Cabbies Back in Drivers' Seats

Taxi operations in Yinchuan, in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, had returned to normal on Tuesday after a four-day strike, a local newspaper reported. The citywide walkout involving more than 4,000 cabs had led to a total breakdown of taxi operations in Yinchuan.


Two new local regulations pertaining to the duration of taxi operation licenses were the cause of the strike.


The two regulations, which were announced on July 28 with an effective date of August 1, were revoked by the local government on July 31.


Government officials explained that when the taxi business was put on the market in the late 1990s, people bid for five-year operating licenses. With license validity for those first owners due to expire this year, drivers staged a small strike in March to argue that they should be allowed to continue operating their cabs as long as they paid for licenses.


Bai Jianping, secretary-general of the Yinchuan government, said the government had held many conferences on the matter since March, soliciting opinions from people concerned. The regulations they decided upon stated that five-year extensions would be available upon expiration of the initial license.


They also required the owners to pay in advance for the entire five-year period. The fee for each taxi is 3,600 yuan (US$435) a year, so owners were required to shell out 18,000 yuan (US$2,176) in one lump sum for the five years.


Many taxi operators were dissatisfied and launched the strike.


Bai claimed that setting a time limit on licenses was meant to help regulate the development of the sector and prevent galloping expansion of the industry. He said taxi operations are a public resource and should not be kept permanently by a certain group. However, he said, many people do not have a clear understanding of this.


He said the government would organize further investigations and wider discussions. A public hearing will also be held to help reach a decision on the issue.


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


China’s criminal law says that anyone who sabotages traffic order can be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison.


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


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


City leaders 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 resolved.


(China Daily August 5, 2004)


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