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January 17, 2011

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'Flexible' taxi rates to tackle congestion

SHANGHAI'S transport decision maker is considering introducing "flexible taxi rates" - with higher prices during rush hours and cheaper rates at quieter times,

This could improve taxi service efficiency, while relieving downtown road congestion, according to the local transport bureau.

"There should be better management of taxis in Shanghai," Wang Xiangzhao, a member of the Shanghai Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told Shanghai Daily at the committee's annual session.

"In rush hours, it's very difficult to get a taxi, while at quieter times many taxis are cruising the streets without passengers."

Officials said they have already launched a feasibility study and the program is part of a planned package of local government traffic-easing initiatives.

They hope higher prices will mean fewer people take taxis downtown during peak times, while attracting more taxi passengers during slack periods.

"We are still trying to find a good balance in the price levy," said a transport bureau expert.

"Investigations showed that when it's easy for more than 70 percent of taxis to get business on a daily basis, cases of drivers being picky about riders sharply increase. When the occupancy rate drops below 50 percent, drivers start suffer substantial income losses," she explained.

Some taxi drivers are skeptical about how effective flexible rates would be, and feared they would hit business. "Whenever possible, drivers already voluntarily avoid driving into congested downtown areas during rush hour. I doubt whether extra income from peak-time service can cover losses from reduced fares in slack periods," said a veteran cabbie from Dazhong Taxi Co.

There are about 50,000 taxis in the city, and the number has remained stable since 1990s because of strict taxi plate control by the local government.

Currently, the passenger occupancy rate during an average day is between 60 and 65 percent, a reasonable level, according to transport bureau officials.


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