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Taxi Numbers May Be Halved in Shanghai
In the worst situation scenario, Shanghai may have to cut the number of taxies by half to help cab drivers survive the hard times of the epidemic of deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

The industry regulator, together with the city government, are considering two options: subsidizing the drivers or cutting the number of cabs by half. Which option will be adopted depends on the outcome of the average daily business cabbies have recorded recently.

"We do have a two-option plan in hand, but it's not the proper time to release as it's still waiting for revise and approval from the govern-ment," said an official with the Shanghai Taxi Administration Office, regulator of Shanghai's 46,000 cabs.

The plan, which is circulating among local taxi companies, is made up of two steps. If the average daily sales among all of cabs falls under a limit, drivers will get subsidies from both the government and their companies to bridge the gap between their daily income and the limit .

Many industry sources say the minimum limit would be 570 yuan (US$68.67) per day. The official with the taxi administration office declined to confirm this figure.

If subsidies don't help and the situation continues to deteriorate, cabs will be divided into two groups according to the numbers on their car plates. The even numbers and the odd numbers will take turns operating.

"But I think the latter plan won't be carried out until the worst situation happens," said Ling Dongshu, a senior official with Dazhong Transportation Group's taxi sector.

Taxi administration officials promised the rescue plans will be in place this month, "since business is slumping every day."

Of the 12 measures on financial support for affected industries released by the city government on Wednesday, taxi drivers will be subsidized 20 percent of taxes and road maintenance fees they have to submit each month.

Cab drivers began seeing fewer and fewer passengers in the second half of April as people began to pay attention to the SARS threat.

"Yes, there are some taking cabs instead of crowded buses and metro trains, but the group is very small," said a cab driver surnamed Ding with Dazhong. "People who enjoy night life used to be my major income sources. But now, there's almost no businesses at night."

The driver is now earning around 600 yuan per day, most of which he says is used to pay a daily car-rental fee of 370 yuan and some 100 yuan for fuel cost and maintenance fee.

Before the SARS scare, he earned between 700 and 800 yuan per day.

Most cab drivers interviewed say they can survive at the moment, but cabs with smaller companies are losing money.

Yang Guoping, general manager of Dazhong, told a local television in an interview yesterday that his company will guarantee each of its drivers will have a monthly income of no less than 1,800 yuan, plus providing free lunch for the drivers every day during this difficult time.

(eastday.com May 9, 2003)

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