A Glimpse Inside Shenzhen's Illegal Cab Industry

By Holly Qu, July 15, 2017

1 0

It’s 6am when a Buick stops in front of the mansion-styled gates to one of Shenzhen’s most affluent neighborhoods. Three people in T-shirts, and toting suitcases, enter the vehicle. A crime has just been committed.

“Both my husband and I work as unlicensed taxis,” the woman behind the wheel says as she drives the family to the airport. “We’ve been at this job since 2007 – that’s 10 years now.”

Li is one of the neighborhoods’ high-end ‘black cab’ drivers.

With a group she estimates at about ten, she provides rides on call to well-heeled customers willing to pay extra for convenience – think pilots, businessmen and anyone else who can afford to live in the mountain-side estate.

She may be driving a slick looking Buick GL8, but the job is unregulated, untaxed and illegal. Getting caught, and potentially fined several months salary, is a daily risk.

And working 14 hours every day makes close calls with police crackdowns inevitable.

Li’s husband was stopped by police a year ago.

To sniff out black cabs, officers stop suspect cars and ask drivers the names of their passengers. Fines can stretch up to RMB100,000

“He managed to make up a story on the spot – saying that he was asked to drop off my friends at the airport.”

Li mentions that another driver wasn’t so lucky, getting slammed with fines equal to two months wages.

But for all the risk, there is also reward, with Li saying she earns up to RMB20,000 monthly. Compare that to a normal taxi, with a China Daily article reporting wages at RMB4,000 in 2016, and a Shenzhen driver recently reporting RMB9,000 per month. 

“Ten years ago, where I worked, the taxi system was very inconvenient,” Li says, describing a management job in a gated community that saw her battle daily to set up taxi service for residents.

“It finally got to a point where I thought this could be my opportunity.”

So she made the leap. And it paid off. Big.

Pooling RMB110,000, she and her husband bought a 2007 Honda City. During her first years she took home RMB40,000 a month.

Facing competition from ride-hailing apps, Li has seen her income halved, but a stream of regulars allow her and her husband to earn more than enough to support her 17-year-old son and adopted dogs. 

It may not be the work that Li expected to be doing, but she says she doesn’t regret it.

“And to think, with my husband’s training as a chef and mine in management,” she says, “we could have opened a hotel instead.”

[Image via Sharing Venice]

more news

Naomi 'SexyCyborg' Wu on Internet Fame, Tech in Shenzhen

"I don't want to blend in, I want to represent."

Above the Clouds in Shenzhen's Steel Titan: Ping An Finance Centre

The Pearl River Delta's tallest spire exemplifies China's rise.

#TBT: The Transformation of China's High-Speed Train Network

How China's high-speed network is transforming the country.

This Day in History: Aleister Crowley Summons Demon in Shanghai

In 1906, the occultist, mystic, magician and self-proclaimed Beast 666 came to Shanghai to summon his Holy Guardian Angel...

The Photographer Documenting China's 'Weird Architecture' Era

Shanghai-based architect Kris Provoost brings his keen designer's eye to his ongoing architecture photography project 'Beautified China.'

Coin Toss: What Happened to China's Bitcoin Boom?

China was once home to the largest, most powerful bitcoin exchanges in the world.

Naomi 'SexyCyborg' Wu on Internet Fame, Tech in Shenzhen

"I don't want to blend in, I want to represent."

0 User Comments

In Case You Missed It…

We're on WeChat!

Scan our QR Code at right or follow us at ThatsShenzhen for events, guides, giveaways and much more!

7 Days in Shenzhen With thatsmags.com

Weekly updates to your email inbox every Wednesday

Subscribe

Download previous issues

Never miss an issue of That's PRD!

Visit the archives

Get the App. Your essential China city companion.