August 2, 2011 / 12:55 PM / 8 years ago

China taxi drivers strike, dismiss pledges to boost fares

* Drivers, police out in force in eastern city

* Cabbies demand increase fares

* Latest in series of transport strikes in China

By Melanie Lee

HANGZHOU, China, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Striking cab drivers in Hangzhou denouncing rising fuel prices and demanding the government make good on pledges to raise fares abandoned their vehicles for a second day on Tuesday, and planned street protests despite a heavy police presence.

Hundreds of idle cabs lined the roads in a outlying residential area of the city in eastern Zhejiang province where many of the drivers live.

Chinese state media said 1,500 disgruntled cabbies went on strike at rush hour on Monday morning in the latest protest to hit China’s transportation industry. Cabbies said many thousands more were off the job.

By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, taxis had all but deserted the centre of Hangzhou, a popular tourist destinations with a picturesque lake.

More than 100 drivers marched near a bus station, trying to block traffic and heckling drivers still taking passengers.

As dusk approached, many shirtless cabbies and women bouncing babies on their hips milled about in sweltering summer heat at one of three designated rally points in anticipation of a growing crowd.

Police were out in force, backed up by riot control buses and cars.

Media reports said the city had nearly 9,000 cabs, suggesting much the fleet is still operational.

Cabbies in Hangzhou say they make about 500 yuan a day ($77), but pay out nearly 80 percent of that in fuel and vehicle rental fees.

A 20-minute cab ride in a major Chinese city costs the equivalent of about $4 — making it an expensive proposition for low wage-earners in a country with huge differences between rich and poor.

Drivers scoffed at a promise by the city’s transportation bureau to raise taxi fares by the end of October and an offer of a temporary fuel subsidy of 1 yuan ($0.16) per trip.

“They said in March they would increase fares and they haven’t done anything,” said a driver surnamed Wu from central Henan province, home to many of the cabbies. “Now they say they will do it in October? Why should we believe them?”

Other city governments have raised fares recently. Shanghai, about 190 km (120 miles) to the north, boosted fares by 2 yuan last month.

The Xinhua news agency said more than 100 drivers and hundreds of residents had earlier assembled outside a police station demanding the release of protesters detained on Monday after pressuring working drivers to join the stoppage.

A senior Hangzhou police official, Zheng Xiansheng, went to the scene to persuade the drivers to return to work, Xinhua said, prompting some protesters to leave.

Wu said drivers’ attempts to post comments to China’s Twitter-like microblog service, Weibo, were being blocked or removed and that local media refused to cover the strike.

Strikes by taxi drivers in China have become more frequent as soaring costs have pinched profits for drivers. Truck drivers at a container port in the financial hub of Shanghai walked out in April to protest against rising expenses.

China’s consumer price index hit a three-year peak of 6.4 percent in June, with leaders in Beijing saying that fighting inflation is their policy priority.

One Hangzhou taxi driver, Di, also from Henan province, said he had no intention of giving in and going back to work.

“They are treating us like children, pushing us around,” he said. “It’s not against the law to stop working. I might not go to work for eight years and no one can stop me.” (Writing by Michael Martina; Editing byh Ron Popeski)

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