Across China: Struggling taxi drivers bailed out amid epidemic

Source: Xinhua| 2020-02-15 17:28:14|Editor: huaxia

Yang Liqiang, a taxi driver, sterilizes the taxi after a day's operation in Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia Autonomous region, Feb. 14, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhao Zehui)

"It's safe to stay at home at this tough time, but there must be people in urgent need for public transport," said 43-year-old Yang Liqiang.

HOHHOT, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- The car of 43-year-old Yang Liqiang is one of the 1,500 taxies still hitting the road and ferrying passengers every day amid the ongoing fight against the outbreak of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Taking time to carefully disinfect his cab and putting on a face mask are the steps Yang must take before he leaves home and sets out on a journey after a local taxi driver was diagnosed with the disease days ago, raising public concerns about the safety of taking a taxi.

As the local government advises residents to quarantine at home to contain the spread of the virus, the once-bustling regional capital Hohhot sees few people on its streets.

"The city is empty, and so is my heart," Yang sighed.

"It's safe to stay at home at this tough time, but there must be people in urgent need for public transport," said Yang. "I fight the virus in my own way."

Unlike Yang who chooses to step outside to offer convenience to others, most of his colleagues are trying their luck to earn some cash as the city's taxi fleet with over 10,000 drivers is feeling the pinch of the deadly epidemic.

During the epidemic, taxi drivers earn a daily income of about 60 yuan (about 8.6 U.S. dollars), only one-third of their regular income. Besides, a taxi driver has to pay a daily car rental fee of 85 yuan or so to the taxi company.

"I am the only breadwinner in my home. It's better to go out and earn some money than stay at home and earn nothing," said a taxi driver, who declined to be identified.

Taxi drivers wait for passengers in the parking lot of Hohhot East Railway Station, Feb.14,2020. (Xinhua/Zhao Zehui)

To reduce daily costs, taxi drivers have come up with some clever solutions.

Hospitals, railway stations and airports have more passengers now than at regular times. Instead of driving around the empty city to pick up passengers, Yang and his colleagues directly head for these places to seek opportunities.

"We line up at the designated places such as the parking lot. Normally, when the cab in front of you leaves with passengers, you drive the car forward to wait for the next passengers," said Yang. "But now, we push to move the car forward, which can help save a small amount of oil."

"Turn off the engine and wait," Yang often reminds others.

As the COVID-19 outbreak has dealt a temporary blow to the taxi business, the regional government is on the move to help everyone pull through.

The transportation administration of Hohhot City announced on Feb. 1 it would exempt the city's taxi drivers from half a month's car rent to help them tide over the epidemic. It is also mulling over offering rental exemptions for another half a month when the policy expires.

"The policy is really encouraging to us. It reduces a heavy burden for taxi drivers under such severe circumstances," said Yang.

"Inner peace is the most important lesson I've learned from my 21 years as a taxi driver," said Yang. "Everything will come to an end, including hardship."