Man on the Street is a regular series where we talk to someone doing an everyday job, in order to gain insight into the lives of normal Chinese people.
Li Hengyu has been cruising the roads of Guangzhou behind the wheel of his light-blue, Volkswagen taxicab for two years. In his early 30s and married with two children, Li, a Henan native, is one of the millions of migrant workers who’ve relocated to first-tier cities in an effort to secure a higher salary.
“I always do the night shift, starting work at 10pm and getting off at 10am,” Li tells us. We ask if he ever refuses to take passengers, but he switches topics, leaving the question unanswered. “Some people shout out and yell in my car,” he says, recounting experiences with drunken riders he sometimes encounters during his nightshift, “but not at me of course.”
Prior to being a taxi driver, Li worked as an electrician in Beijing and Wuhan, where he didn’t feel content with working conditions. Now he drives almost every day.
Li boasts a calm composure seldom associated with Guangzhou’s cabbies. But, during our ride, he has a complaint: pay cuts, something he attributes to the burgeoning ride-hailing business.
In order to improve the flow of public transportation, restrictions were placed on the number of cabs allowed to operate in Chinese cities back in 2016, the same year car-hailing services were legalized. According to the Guangzhou Taxi Association, taxi drivers were able to earn between RMB6,000-7,0000 per month back in 2014, prior to the arrival of Didi. Since the rise of ride-hailing apps, cabbies’ monthly salaries in Guangzhou sit at around RMB5,000.
Liang Yunsheng, a three-year cabbie also hailing from Henan, has a differing opinion on competition from Didi, an app he deems a blessing. During a half-hour journey, the 34-year-old struck us as a well-mannered but grumbly person.
“Experienced drivers earn higher salaries, because they’ve got a higher evaluation and often receive orders in Didi and Dida … If you get an order from a client who needs to go from Guangzhou South Railway to the airport, that’s a day’s work done.” Liang said, expressing jealousy of older cabbies.
But, in Li and Liang’s line of work, there’s always been a negative factor: compliants from passengers. Liang must adhere to a company policy that asks for a salary deduction of RMB800 per complaint. “A passenger once complained that I took a roundabout route for missing a U-turn.” Liang said, with indignance. On another occassion, Liang received a RMB200 fine for parking on the side of a street where he was eating lunch.
Next year, Guangzhou will impose harsher penalties on taxi drivers who refuse to pick-up passengers, opt for roundabout routes, carpool, kick out passengers en route or overcharge passengers. We, as passengers, should come to benefit from these new regulations. But for Li and Liang, they will still have to put up with finicky or drunk passengers, for the sake of their wallets.
THE DIRTY DETAILS
Monthly income: RMB6,000
Days per week: 7 days
Hours per day: 10 hours
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[Cover image via S./Upslpash]