Transport workers in six different cities across China have staged strikes over the last two days in protest at last week’s seven percent increase in fuel prices, New Tang Dynasty Television reported 27 March.
Several hundred taxi drivers in Neijiang, Sichuan, parked on the streets refusing to take fares on 26 March. And in nearby Chongzhou, drivers took similar action over two days in protest at fuel prices and the government’s failure to crackdown on unlicensed cabs.
In the coastal city of Wenzhou, several hundred taxi drivers parked along the main road in Rui’an district on 27 March blocking traffic. And taxi drivers held similar protests in Yantai in Shandong and Pingchuan in Gansu on the same day.
The previous day, around 90 buses in Dongguan’s Dalang township remained idle throughout the morning as drivers and crew protested fuel increases, which reportedly could add up to 1,000 yuan to their monthly running costs.
The government announced last week that it will provide taxi drivers across the country with a monthly subsidy of around 300 yuan after what was a second fuel price increase in just six weeks. But the evidence of the last two days shows the subsidy is clearly inadequate.
Prices at the pump increased by between six and eight percent this week after the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced a 600 yuan per metric ton price increase on 19 March. The sooner-than-expected price hike followed a 300 yuan per ton increase on 8 February.
The NDRC said the taxi subsidy would only be a temporary measure until fares are adjusted but as the recent round of taxi strikes shows, drivers across the country are demanding immediate increases to both the flag fall and per kilometre fare rates. Striking drivers in the central city of Zhoukou, for example, claimed flag-fall there had not increased at all since 1996, while the local cost of living had skyrocketed.
In Beijing, where political pressure makes taxi strikes very difficult if not impossible to organize, residents say drivers are taking matters into their own hands by refusing to pick up unprofitable fares. Fares in the national capital have been frozen since 2006, and the China Daily interviewed drivers who suggested that flag fall would now have to be doubled to 20 yuan if they were to make a decent living.
Drivers throughout China routinely complain of having to work excessively long shifts just to get by after the continually increasing costs of leasing fees, fuel, repairs and maintenance are deducted from their net income.
The government sought to address the first of these concerns last month by announcing that the current contract system, under which drivers lease a vehicle for a monthly fee from the cab company, would be replaced by an employee system in which the drivers would work directly for the company. Although such a move would give drivers better legal protection as employees, it would do little to address their key concerns over earning a decent living.
It seem inevitable that local governments will have to either raise fares, cut the leasing fees paid to cab companies or introduce other concrete measures to reduce the cost burden of taxi drivers or the strikes that have become a regular part of urban life in China will only continue and intensify.