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Beijing taxi drivers told to tidy up
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Beijing has started a month-long inspection of its 66,000 taxis. While citizens are generally satisfied with the improvement of taxi drivers' attitude and tidiness of the vehicles, some drivers complain the checks are too strict.

Although he could find more customers at the Beijing Railway Station, Zhao Shengli (pseudonym) of the Jinjian taxi company said he would try to avoid going there.

"There are inspectors," he said. "If they give me a notice for punishment, I would have to pay 200 yuan (about 28.6 U.S. dollars) as a fine -- I can only gross 400 yuan a day."

He said one of his colleague was fined after an inspector found a hair on a seat. To ensure the taxi was clean enough, inspectors wear white gloves.

Started on June 12, the inspection was aimed at polishing Beijing's image as the August Olympiad approached, said Yue Xiujun of the Beijing Municipal Transportation Law Enforcement General Team.

More than 200 traffic supervisors will carry out surprise checks once a week. Other inspectors will monitor taxis at intersections.

The effort will focus on areas surrounding dozens of Olympic-appointed hotels in Wangfujing Street, a shopping and tourist area in downtown Beijing.

Drivers who refused to carry passengers to the due destination, make a detour so as to charge more, and those whose taxis were not clean would be fined hundreds or even thousands of yuan.

"All the punishments are in accordance with regulations," Yue said. He denied drivers would be fined for a hair. "But if there are smears, they would be fined."

Many passengers were satisfied with the result of the inspection.

"In the past, the smell of sweat and smoke were terrible inside the cars," said Wang Jun, a local resident. "Now the air is clean and the blankets on the seat tidy. It is much more comfortable taking taxis."

However, the inspection reduced the number of taxis at some traffic hubs as drivers like Liu refused to go there.

"Every morning, the queue of passengers waiting for taxis could be as long as hundreds of meters. Many had to wait with their huge pieces of luggage," said Wang Hongyan, a stall owner at the square of the Beijing Railway Station.

Beijing has vowed to greet the Olympic Games with good service and clean air. Taxis have become more important as the city adopted an even-odd system based on license plate numbers that will keep about 50 percent of vehicles off the roads on alternate days from July 20 to Sept. 20 to ease congestion and improve air quality.

On Monday, half of the 22,800 vehicles used by agencies of the Beijing municipal government were kept off the road in line with a one-month car restriction scheme that aims to curb congestion and air pollution.

(Xinhua News Agency June 25, 2008)

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