It is still dawn as Zheng Guijun gets into his taxi and picks up his first customer. When he goes home at 9 PM, his 10-year-old son is already asleep.
Working an average of 14 hours a day, Zheng, a Beijing taxi driver of six years, still barely makes ends meet. Worse, the recent 6 per cent rise in petrol prices hit his business so badly that he is considering quitting his job.
"It adds about 10 yuan (US$1.2) per day, 300 yuan (US$37) per month to the petrol cost," said Zheng, 35, who drives a 1.4-litre Citroen Fukang.
His taxi runs 260 to 300 kilometres, spending about 25 litres of petrol a day. It means monthly petrol costs of 3,000 yuan (US$369).
"And I earn a profit of only 2,000 yuan (US$250) a month," Zheng said with a deep sigh. "It is just too much for me."
That doesn't count repair bills to his well-worn cab. Last time, it cost him 700 yuan (US$86) to fix the broken clutch.
The soaring petrol cost has added to Zheng's daily financial burden -- a monthly fee to his cab company.
Zheng pays 4,400 yuan (US$543) to the Beijing City Limo Yinjian Auto Service Co Ltd, one of the largest taxi companies in the capital.
For the former farmer of Miyun County of Beijing, the rental fee is an everyday nightmare, waking him up in the morning by saying: "You are bearing a debt of 150 yuan (US$19) today."
In Beijing, where almost every street has traffic during the rush hours, Zheng takes about 20 passengers a day.
But he said his business is shrinking partly because of the condition of the car.
"The new taxis, the Elantras, have higher occupancy rates than we have. And the old Xiali has lower costs. We are stuck in the middle and left with little business."
Zheng's two-year contract ends next month.
(China Daily August 5, 2005)