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City Mayor Apologizes as Taxi Strike Continues

The acting mayor of the south China city of Sanya offered an apology to striking taxi drivers on Tuesday, pledging to improve the city's transport industry and create a harmonious environment for licensed drivers.

Wang Yong, acting mayor of Sanya in the southern island province of Hainan, met with representatives of taxi companies and drivers Tuesday afternoon for more than an hour as the strike continued for a second day.

"Lots of issues exist in our transport management, and I apologize for that to the city's taxi drivers," he told them.

He vowed to severely crack down on unlicensed cabs who stole business from the licensed drivers and on the lawbreakers who smashed cabs during the strike on Monday.

He also voiced support for the licensed drivers to set up their own association so as to provide a convenient channel to air grievances.

"We must resolve the major issues put forth by the taxi drivers as soon as possible to safeguard their legitimate rights," he said.

More than 100 cabbies gathered in front of the building of Sanya City government in the morning, and the number of drivers increased to more than 300 at around noon.

The taxi drivers repeated demands for intervention on issues, including high monthly taxi rental fees and unlicensed cabs, and called for the release of 21 people detained by police over involvement in violence during the strike.

The 21 people attacked taxi drivers who would not participate in the strike and smashed 15 cabs, said a police bureau spokesman.

Sanya, a major tourist city, has about 1,050 licensed cabs owned by six companies, taxi drivers said. However, the number of unlicensed cabs is twice the number of licensed taxis.

Striking drivers criticized some companies who ignored a municipal government policy that reduced monthly rental fees by 26 percent from January 1, a move intended to make the cabbies' lives easier.

Chen Zhibang, head of the city's transport bureau, said representatives have been sent to hear drivers' complaints and persuade them back to work.

Chen said more buses had been put into service since the strike began on Monday.

"The issues raised by taxi drivers are actually very common in this industry. Only when the government takes real action can the problems be eradicated," a driver representative surnamed Zeng told Xinhua after the talks with the government officials.

Meanwhile, taxi drivers in Yongdeng County, in the northwestern Gansu Province, agreed to end their strike after the county government promised to put forward a plan within 10 days to get rid of unlicensed cabs.

The local government had planned to solved the problem of unlicensed cabs within a week, but changed the time frame to 10 days to ensure the job was done properly.

About 700 illegal cabs operated in the county, stealing business from licensed drivers, said a strikers' representative. The county had about 280 licensed cabs. Half of the drivers went on strike on Monday.

"Some of us returned to work on Monday evening after the government promised to take action. The rest resumed service on Tuesday morning," said driver Ma Jiangshan. He was satisfied with the government's attitude in tackling their complaints.

Both strikes, in Sanya and Yongdeng, broke out days after a similar cab strike in China's fourth largest city, Chongqing, last week.

(Xinhua News Agency November 12, 2008)

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