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16 Apr 2020

China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)

China: Taxi drivers protest for rent reductions and driver ownership rights amid coronavirus outbreak

“Taxi driver protests continue despite government relief measures”, 15 April 2020

As China gradually resumes normal economic activity, the country's 2.6 million taxi drivers are still reeling from the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Increasingly desperate drivers are staging large-scale protests demanding a reduction in the fees they have to pay cab companies or the right to get out of the business entirely without penalty.

Many drivers were already struggling financially prior to the pandemic and there was a noticeable increase in protests towards the end of last year, mainly related to local government regulations, cab company management, and, in particular, competition from ride-app and unlicensed drivers.

During the height of the pandemic, many taxi drivers could not work at all, and even after control measures were lifted in various parts of the country drivers still struggled to make a living because of a lack of customers…

At the same time, many cab companies were still demanding several thousand yuan a month in vehicle rent from their drivers, meaning that drivers were actually losing money each month.

Since the start of this year, CLB’s Strike Map has recorded 25 taxi driver protests (compared with 54 for the whole of last year), the majority of which included demands for rent reductions or cancellations…

Several local governments, including the Beijing municipal government, have now introduced measures to ease the burden on taxi drivers through reduced rents or additional subsidies, but many only did so after drivers took strike action…

In other cities such as Dalian, however, some taxi companies are refusing to make concessions even after driver protests and are insisting that drivers pay their rental fees as usual.

Other long-standing grievances such as driver ownership rights and the push to convert all taxis to electric vehicles have also been brought into sharper focus by the coronavirus crisis. Many drivers complain that even though they own their car, the cab companies still maintain some operating rights and can charge drivers accordingly, adding to the drivers already considerable burden. In addition, drivers say, forcing them to upgrade to electric vehicles at this time is both impractical and unreasonable.

Continuing tensions are evident by frequent confrontations between regular cab drivers and ride-app drivers over alleged customer snatching…