The recent eyebrow-raising rise in fuel prices has driven Beijing taxi drivers into a new round of complaints, and government agencies in the capital are still working on a relief plan.
Cabbies in Beijing, who usually drive more than 300 kilometers a day, undoubtedly bear the brunt of the new round of fuel price hikes, with an average rise of 0.3 yuan (4 US cents) per liter.
Generally speaking, a taxi consumes about 1,000 liters of petrol a month, so the drivers must each add 300 yuan (US$37) to their costs.
The Beijing Municipal Transportation Administration, which oversees the taxi industry, said it had noticed the impact of the latest increases on drivers.
An administration official, who gave only her surname, Yao, said the government was considering whether to provide subsidies to the city's nearly 100,000 taxi drivers as Shanghai Municipality did.
"Everything is still under discussion," Yao said. "We have not worked out any plan yet."
The Shanghai municipal government announced on Wednesday that it will provide each taxi driver with at least 300 yuan each month to help tide them over.
Ren Jinbao, a driver for the Qiangsheng Taxi Company in Shanghai, said: "The 350 yuan (US$43) subsidy can relieve my burden."
"I am satisfied with my current situation," Ren said, who has worked as a cab driver for 10 years. "The subsidy can help offset the extra cost incurred by the rising oil price."
However, Beijing cabbies may not be so lucky. They may have to pay the additional fuel costs by themselves, at least at present.
Beijing drivers have long complained of long hours while making little money after paying their bosses.
Generally speaking, drivers have to pay a deposit of around 40,000 yuan (US$5,000) to a taxi company to obtain a license.
To make a living, drivers usually rise early in the morning and drive their company-owned cabs 13-14 hours almost every day. In a good month, they can earn about 8,000-10,000 yuan (US$1,000-1,200) if they don't take a day off.
However, no matter whether it's a good or a bad month, they must still pay their companies about 4,000 to 5,000 yuan (US$494-617) in car rental fees.
What's more, the drivers must pay for petrol and maintenance fees as well as income tax, which amounts to at least 3,000 yuan (US$370).
Given that a cabbie in Beijing can earn only around 2,000 yuan (US$250) a month on average, the additional cost brought by the fuel price hikes means a lot to these hard-working people.
The situation is almost the same in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province.
Sweating all over, Zhang Changqing was napping in his car in the shade of a tree under the scorching sun, at noon yesterday.
He turned off the air-conditioning system of his taxi and rolled down all the windows.
"When there are no passengers in my taxi, I usually turn off the air conditioner despite the hot weather," he said.
"The price rise has eaten into my hard-earned wages," he said. "I have to try to save petrol to minimize the losses."
Zhang, a native of a rural area in Central China's Henan Province, last year earned about 2,000 yuan (US$250) a month.
However, the frequent petrol price rises have cost him about 600 yuan (US$74) extra.
He said he wishes the municipal government would consider offering temporary subsidies or reducing part of the rental fees.
According to Chen Weiqiu, a Guangzhou municipal government spokesman, the municipal government is working on possible solutions to the unfavorable impact of the price hike on public transportation operators.
Chen said a temporary fuel surcharge of 1 yuan (US 12 cents) on passengers for each ride and a reduction of some charges for drivers are among the municipal government's options.
(China Daily August 5, 2005)