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August 29, 2011

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Amid doubt, new cabbies try to cope

STARING at the road ahead with the headlights on, Ji Mengliang tried to find a place to park, and more importantly, a place to eat dinner.

Astride him were luxury private cars whose owners were seeking out fancy restaurants on a summer weekend.

"A roadside stall will be fine with me," said Ji. "I do not ask too much and I have to get used to it."

A cabbie in Shanghai, Ji won't make a lot of money, just like other taxi drivers, tens of thousands of them. He is different, though.

Almost two months into operation, nearly 250 cabbies recruited from out of town, the first of their kind, are experiencing a multitude of feelings, good and bad. The 46-year-old Ji, from neighboring Jiangsu Province, is one of them.

"I can understand Shanghai dialect," said the cabbie. "But that won't make any difference in some local's mind that I'm from out of town."

The city has a notorious reputation for discriminating against people from outside, commonly lumping them together as "country people" (or "redneck" in American vernacular).

Some out-of-town cabbies said they would be looked down upon by locals who complain that the drivers are not familiar with the roads and accuse them of inadvertently taking detours.

"I can live with that," said Ji, who has been living in the city for about 20 years, when he first came to Shanghai and did various jobs from warehouse keeper to driver in a factory.

"In my first lesson in the taxi business, the trainer told us, 'The industry does not fully trust you people from out of town,'" said Ji. "We know that we could be the first and could also be the last."

Though he has spent two decades in Shanghai, Ji lacks certification to live in the city and is officially considered an outsider.

He has nine companions, from all over the country, in the same taxi squad with him. They have all done well so far, said Ji.

The city has about 50,000 taxis with close to 100,000 drivers employed. Most cars have two drivers - one during the day, one at night.

But as many drivers approach retirement age and local young people do not want long work hours and harsh conditions, there is a shortage of drivers and some cars are left with only one shift.

The need to fill that gap is what has forced city traffic authorities to open the market to out-of-town drivers.

Ji has to drive seven days a week without rest, because his car does not share a second driver. He can earn more than 200 yuan each day after paying a part to his taxi company.

With taxi jobs once restricted to locals, the industry has placed high demands on the newcomers from out of town. Many of them have lived in the city for a long time like Ji, do not have communication problems and have at least two years of driving experience in Shanghai.

But some cabbies were washed out during training process, troubled by the long working hours, and the city has no plan to hire more cabbies from out of town.

"I am trying not to think about other stuff too much," said Ji, who works 14 hours - from 7:30am to 9:30pm - each day. "I want to stay."


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