Saturday, January 1, 2011

Beijing Taxi By the “Numbers”

迎乘坐北京出租。也感谢您提出宝贵的意见并进行监督。Welcome Passengers. Welcome to take Beijing Taxi. Your advice on our service is appreciated.” So begins your cab ride, after your driver flips up the red-lit 空车 switch on the front roof top to start the meter.

All Beijing cabs have license plates B xxxxx. If the leading letter is not B, it’s not a proper Beijing cab. Most cabs are either VW Jettas or Hyundai Elantra and seat up to 4 (1 in front, 3 in back).

Fare: 10 rmb for the first 3 km, 2 rmb / km thereafter; 2 rmb / 5 mins under 12 kph. These days because of rising gasoline prices, you need to pay a surcharge of 1 RMB for all rides longer than 3 km. Fares after 11 PM incur a 10% surcharge. Single way rides over 15 km incur a 10% surcharge.

If you are sitting next to the driver, you will see the driver’s registration (with the driver’s name, photo, ID number and the cab company) on the dashboard facing you.

Lowest drivers ID number 4xxx I’ve seen, highest number 285xxx in 2010.

9-10xxxx in ’95, 15-16xxxx in 2000, 28xxxx in 2010; These last 7-8 years, each year saw 10000+ new cab driver (replacing retired and more double shifts).

There are 66,000-67,000 Taxis and more than 100 taxi cab companies.

Over 100,000 current taxi drivers

Largest Taxi Company BeiQi (北气, Beijing Beiqi Taxi Company) has over 5,500 taxis and 11,000 drivers; smallest taxi company has less than 1 dozen cars…

Average Fees and Costs for the Driver: (company fees) 3000-3500 rmb / month for each shift of a double shift; over 4,000 rmb / month for a single shift. For each driver, 120 rmb / day of gasoline; they try to gross 600 rmb / shift and the typical mileage is 500-600 km / day. The cab company doesn't cover maintenance. The subsidy for gasoline price hike is 600 rmb / cab / month.

Typical double shift is alternate days, though there are day-night shifts (there are drivers who are husband-wife teams).

Numbers on the Receipt. The numbers are 0xxx (Cab company ID), xxxxxxxx (8 digit cab company phone), B-Xxxxx (taxi license plate), xxxxxxx (driver ID), Date, Time (start to end), 2.00 (rmb /km), mileage, wait time (time under 12 kph), 0 or 1 (state, i.e., return or one-way), and (finally) total fare.

Starred taxis. Some taxi drivers are “starred,” that is, they have been nominated and judged worth of “starred” status. For these drivers, their light on top has a star. Also their dash board licenses also display the star or stars. I have seen drivers with 4 stars. Supposedly when these drivers get their fifth star, their license gets a big star in place of the 4 stars. I have never seen a driver with one big star. (Those whose partners are starred get a break, as the cab has a star on top, but you can tell that there is no star on their dashboard ID.)


My first trip to Beijing was in 1996. Most taxis then were 面的 (Mian Di, literally, “bread taxi”). (Beijing-ers call taxis “di,” pronounced “dee” and short for 的士, which is how Hong Kong-ers transliterate “taxi” into Cantonese. These “bread” taxis were so-called because they were yellow and were in the shape of a loaf of bread. The fare: 10 rmb / 10 km. The pricing of the other taxis were 3 tiered, 1.2 rmb / km (10 rmb for the first 5 km) or 1.6 rmb / km (10 rmb for the first 5 km) or 2.0 rmb / km (10 rmb for the first 3 km). By 1999, every single MianDi had been decommissioned. In 2004, the 1.2 rmb / km cabs were phased out, leaving a two-tiered system 1.6, 2 rmb /km system.  By 2006, there were only 2 rmb / km cabs.
A MianDi on its way to be decommissioned.

“Scabs” and Miscellanies: These days it's harder and harder to find a cab with the automatic voice message welcoming you "... to take Beijing Taxi" ...

I started writing this blog before JW’s visit in October, thinking that he may need it when he went about town. Luckily his friends V (from HK) and ZQ (from Shanghai and HK) were also on hand. But the one time we arranged to meet at PanJia Yuan (潘家园 or Pan’s Garden), the most famous dirt market of Beijing, their cab driver had trouble and it took a few calls for me to guide them. After they showed up, I asked for the receipt and was somewhat surprised that a driver with number 27xxxx, i.e., a driver who has been driving for about a year or so, did not know where PJ Yuan was. In any case, with this example, I quickly gave V, Z and J the various numbers of how one can determine the driver’s cab-driving age.

Ironically, later that evening, after putting V, Z and J on a cab, my wife and I had our own surprising turn in a cab whose driver’s ID number was 13xxxx. He did qualify for cab driving in 1998, but, on this particular evening, had only been driving a cab for less than a month. Afterwards, I found out from other drivers that one can pay 10 rmb / year to maintain their taxi licenses; however, after more than a 2 year layoff, the driver would also need a month’s worth of taxi-driver training before they are allowed to resume.

In addition to the 66,000 plus taxicabs, there are usually other cars, the so-called 黑车 (literally, “black cars”) whose drivers would try to pick up passengers at a fare that is negotiated on the spot. These days, these “black cars” would be out in full force during rush hours. Once, my wife and I had to take one after trying for more than 20 minutes to hail a cab. (My wife had to be present at a 9 AM Ph. D. oral defense, and these days, it is becoming exceedingly hard to get a free cab during rush hours, which now stretch from 7:30 – 9:30 or later.)

A couple of years ago, after a very late night of drinking with friends, my wife and I took a fake taxicab (scab?) home. The car had the taxi lights across the top and even had a meter. But after we got out, we noticed that the receipt was not proper and I looked right away at the license plate, which was K. So there were a few cars masquerading as licensed Beijing taxis, especially at night, when it’s hard to pay attention to the plate or other details.

In the last month, I’ve seen cases even more egregious. (I think partly it is due to the fact that Beijing license plates are now up to the letter P.) Twice, at night, on the way back to our apartment, we saw a car, colored in the typical two-tone Beijing cab color (red or blue or green or brown on top of beijing-taxi yellow), but with rear plates Pxxxxx. The plate would be scratched or covered with some tape to try to pass off the P as a B. (In fact, if it were not for the scratches or the tape, I wouldn’t have paid extra attention to the ‘cab.’) From the outside, the cars (both Elantras) were virtually indistinguishable from a regular cab, but for the scratched plate or the partially covered letter P.