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Chongqing to Help Cab Drivers on Strike

The government of southwest China's Chongqing municipality said on Monday it would take measures to help cab drivers, following a morning work-stoppage that turned violent at times.

The government has begun seeking opinions on raising fares, increasing compressed natural gas (CNG) supplies and cracking down on unlicensed cabs, said Liang Peijun, deputy director of the city's transportation commission.

The city's cab association has proposed a plan to adjust the split of fares between drivers and companies.

About 8 percent of the 9,000 urban cabbies in China's fourth-largest city returned to work by 2:00 PM on Monday, some with transport officials in their passenger seats.

Drivers asked transport staff to accompany them to guarantee their safety after about 20 vehicles, including three police cars, were smashed earlier in the day.

Almost 800 drivers, responding to requests from the municipal transport administration, have returned to work, ending a sometimes violent strike in the southwest China city.

The municipal transport administration held meetings after the strike broke out on Monday morning and tried to persuade drivers to resume work. Police patrol cars were out in force on the roads.

Cab drivers in the main urban zones stopped work to protest a number of issues on Monday.

Shortages of CNG, which fuels most cabs in the city, competition from unlicensed cabs and high fines for traffic violations ignited the strike, said a worker at the municipal transport administration, on condition of anonymity.

Drivers must wait for one to three hours to refill their CNG tanks at a limited number of fuel stations.

One driver, Tan Daihua, said he promised his wife that he would bring home 100 yuan (US$14.60) a day when he chose to work for a cab company. "However, I gave her 100 yuan during the past four days."

The municipal government and Communist Party of China Chongqing Municipal Committee held several meetings on Monday to discuss the action and issued directives to restore cab services, said Zhou Bo, deputy publicity director of the committee.

Zhou said officials should be alert for serious problems, police should keep traffic flowing, unlicensed cab drivers would be penalized and an investigation would be conducted into CNG prices.

More than 100 people gathered on a business street at about 11:30 AM., in the Jiangbei District, stopped cabs and pulled out the drivers.

"All cab drivers agreed to stop work, and we damaged the cabs of those who didn't keep their word," one of the crowd, who refused to give his name, told Xinhua, adding that most of the 100 people were cab drivers.

A cab driver, who only gave his surname as Huang, said he worked in the taxi service of the municipal public transport group.

He found some people smashing cabs in Shaping District as he drove on the street in the morning, and he returned to his company.

"A strike is not what I want, but my cab will be smashed if I drive," said Huang, adding that many his colleagues felt the same.

Members of the public found no cabs in service during the rush hour.

Municipal transport administration deputy director Zhang Yujun said some drivers were willing to work, but they either found their cab windows smashed, or their passengers pulled from the vehicles.

Known as the "mountain city", Chongqing, unlike other Chinese cities, has very few bicycles, and cabs are the most common mode of transport after buses.

The municipality has 16,000 licensed cabs, with almost 9,000 in main urban zones.

As Chongqing officials strive to restore taxi service, their counterparts in Fenghuang County of central China's Hunan Province, a famous scenic spot, are doing the same thing.

Cab drivers in the mountainous area, which is reputed to be one of "the 10 most beautiful counties in China" for its natural beauty and the primitive culture of the Miao ethnic group, went on strike on October 28 to protest annual operating fees.

As of Monday afternoon, about 30 cab drivers, about 21 percent of the county's total, were still on strike, Zhang Yongzhong, head of the county government, told Xinhua.

Zhang said the strike had little effect on the county's traffic as more buses were put into use, but his government would continue "explaining to the taxi drivers."

Fenghuang has two cab companies with 145 licensed cabs. The strike was set off by some drivers' refusal to pay annual operating charges.

"Some drivers' licenses will expire by the end of this year and they are being asked to pay the government 10,000 yuan a year to retain their license," said one cab driver.

"I have just had my license renewed, but I also think 10,000 yuan is too much," said the driver, adding they faced increasing competition from unlicensed drivers, which made the annual fee "not worthwhile".

The county government planned to have meetings with the two cab companies and drivers to resolve the issue.

(Xinhua News Agency November 4, 2008)

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