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Hubei taxi protest set to escalate

Agence France-Presse, Monday 25 June 2001

BEIJING: More than 1,000 taxi drivers are on strike in central Hubei province to protest against a new fee that will cut their income by up to a third, local officials and a rights group say.

As the streets of Jingzhou city emptied of taxis and officials showed no signs of softening their stance, the drivers were yesterday considering escalating the conflict, possibly by jamming roads in the city.

The stand-off began when the Jingzhou government announced that the city's 1,588 taxi drivers would have to pay 30,000 yuan (HK$28,290) for a five-year licence, an official with the Jingzhou petition bureau said.

Some drivers don't understand why we have these policies, said the official, who gave his surname as Liang. Probably many of them feel they can't afford it.

Since taxi drivers in the city make an average of just 20,000 yuan a year, the fee will mean a 30per cent reduction in most incomes, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in China.

Mr Liang said dozens of drivers had talked to government officials on Friday. They decided to stage a strike after the meetings.

He said only about 200 taxis were still operating as of Saturday, leaving close to 1,400 drivers on strike.

The Hong Kong-based group said about 1,000 drivers gathered at a plaza yesterday to discuss how to escalate their protest, with some suggesting action should be taken to paralyse traffic next week if the fee remained.

Mr Liang said the fee would not be abandoned because it had been approved by higher authorities and was needed to finance construction of new roads in the city.

He also suggested that the local government would not be unhappy to see some taxi drivers go out of business because of the fee.

There are so many taxi drivers here, he said.

The only possible future trend is for less drivers, not more, Mr Liang said.