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Beware dubious bus operators in the tomb-sweeping season

THE transport watchdog is warning the 1.3 million locals who plan to head out of town for the tomb-sweeping season to avoid using unlicensed bus operators.

The Shanghai Traffic Law Enforcement Team estimated that 7 million locals will pay tribute to the dead in the city and its fringes during the period around the Qingming Festival, which falls on the first Saturday next month. About 1.3 million will be heading to Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces by bus or train in the next few weeks.

And unlicensed bus operators consider it a good time to make money, the team said.

Two unlicensed minibuses were seized by team agents on a road near Zhaotun Town in suburban Qingpu District on the weekend, team spokesman Wu Runyuan said yesterday.

The investigators said the two vehicles were waiting for enough passengers to head for Suzhou City in Jiangsu Province. The bus operators face fines up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,316) each.

Besides evading taxes, illegal buses can often be unsafe and seriously overloaded.

"They stop frequently along the trip to pick up more passengers. Some were alarmingly overloaded when they were spotted," Wu said.

To avoid detection, they usually avoid the main provincial highways, Wu said.

Many of the buses wear fake plates, which makes it difficult to investigate if passengers run into problems.

One recent victim, a woman surnamed Lin, told the team the minibus she booked was an hour late to pick up her family to go tomb sweeping in Suzhou on Friday morning.

The bus broke down halfway there. The driver couldn't get it going again despite working on it for two hours and refused to refund the nearly 300 yuan fare the family paid. The family finally waved down a passing car to complete the trip.

She noted down the bus's licence plate but it was fake.

The family found out about the minibus through a business card they were given on the street. The team suggests locals ignore such fliers and resist the cheaper prices.

An unlicensed 10-seat minibus from Shanghai to Suzhou return costs about 300 yuan, about 100 to 150 yuan lower than the market price, the authority said.


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