Shanghai taxis rated least satisfactory for public service, but are they China’s worst?

Shanghai’s taxi industry is getting more complaints nowadays. — Jiang Xiaowei

Shanghai’s taxi industry is getting more complaints nowadays. — Jiang Xiaowei

SHANGHAI taxis were once again given a massive thumbs-down by the city’s ethics promotion office after the cabs were rated the “least satisfactory public service” for the second time. But do local residents and visitors really have anything to complain about, at least when compared with other parts of China?

The Shanghai Transport Commission recently released a study they conducted on the levels of public satisfaction with the taxi service, and the results were less than shining.

The industry was stripped of its “Civilized Industry” title since it failed public assessments. Is it any wonder that ride-hailing apps are making such a massive dent in the industry?

For those of us who still refuse to use those apps — my excuse is that I’m terrified of that inevitable phone call from a rambling driver angrily asking for directions through a bad connection with less than precise Putonghua, or Mandarin — good old-fashioned taxi hailing is still the done thing.

One of the biggest gripes was those pesky taxi drivers who blatantly refuse fares — for whatever reason.

Usually it’s because the distance is too short, they’re not heading in your desired direction, they’re about to finish and hand their car to the next driver, or they have already been booked by an app user, all the while insisting on waiting for that passenger with their green light calling out like a beacon of hope.

Alas, it’s just a mirage.

In case you didn’t already know, it’s important to realize that refusal of fares is illegal in Shanghai, and in fact all over China. The best way around the possibility of being rejected is to first ask the driver if they’re free — just to make sure they’re not already booked — and then instead of telling him or her where you’re going, simply get in and close the door before letting them know where you want to go.

This won’t always work, of course, but it at least makes it harder to be refused.

You can take a photo of the driver’s ID badge which is positioned on the front dashboard and threaten to complain to the company when you’re refused. One driver I encountered recently physically covered his ID badge and wouldn’t allow me to take a photo, so it’s clear that at least the threat of complaint works sometimes.

Another problem is taxi drivers trying to rip off customers, especially foreign visitors, by charging exorbitant fares. One of the prime locations of this scam is from the maglev station into the city. I had a friend who came to visit me recently and was charged 300 yuan for a 40-50 yuan fare!

But are Shanghai taxi drivers really that bad? After all, it’s not safe even in New York.

It’s probably not a great argument, suggesting something might not be so bad by pointing to a worse example, but it’s probably worth noting, in the interest of our own sanity, that we have it pretty good here in Shanghai, at least compared with the rest of China.

While most of my taxi experiences here have been pleasant or forgettable, some have stuck in my mind.

On one occasion, me and my two friends arrived in Kunming, capital city of Yunnan Province, at around 4am after a short train ride from Dali, only to find that every single taxi refused us.

We decided to lug our heavy bags a few streets away from the station to try our luck and were still refused. In the end we had to walk more than an hour with our luggage to find where we were staying.

In Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, I was secretly delighted to find that it’s not just foreigners who are ripped off by taxi drivers, after a candid discussion with a local cabbie. He told me anyone not speaking the local dialect is often charged at a higher rate — they have a way to select a different fare level on their meter, he said — and detoured around on longer journeys.

It’s obvious that the taxi industries in China, and around the world, are facing tough competition from ride-hailing apps, which make the whole process much more convenient and user-friendly.

So how long will Shanghai taxi drivers and companies take to realize this and up their game? I guess only time will tell.


Editor’s note:

Andy Boreham comes from New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, and has lived in China, off and on, for the past four years. Now he is living in Shanghai earning a master’s degree in Chinese culture and language at Fudan University. He welcomes your feedback on all of the issues he covers — you can reach him at andy.boreham@shanghaidaily.com.

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