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Rooftop lights signal yes or no on taxi service

SHANGHAI has simplified its color scheme for the new lamps that will sit atop all local taxis to let passengers know whether they are available.

Some 300 cabs are now equipped with the devices, and an increasing number will be hitting the streets each week until all 40,000 of the city's taxis have a new rooftop signal.

But even though a previous scheme was modified because it was too complicated, the new signals are still drawing complaints from some commuters and cab drivers over their appearance. And the true test of whether the system does what it's intended to do - make it difficult for cabbies to refuse fares they deem economically unattractive - won't come until the city's taxi users give it a full test drive.

Look for green

The new signal is an arch-shaped shell affixed to the cab's roof. It contains a light-emitting diode that glow red or green and flashes the Chinese character for available or not available.

Originally, three colors were going to be used: red for out of service, green for available and yellow for reserved. But tests showed riders thought three hues were too complicated, and now there are only two: green for available, red for not available.

"In response to public opinion, we have now simplified the colors of the lamps displaying a cab's service status," Huang Xiaoyong of the Shanghai Communications, Transport and Port Bureau said yesterday.

"Just remember, in the future when you want a cab, just look for the color green."

In addition to the rooftop location and the color-coded signals, perhaps the main change over the present little red light on the dashboard is that the new lights will be controlled via a global positioning system link to the central dispatcher. The linkage will commence when all the cabs are equipped with the system, and at that point, cabbies won't be able to make up excuses to refuse fares they don't like.

But while the color scheme has been simplified, several features of the new system that have drawn complaints won't change. The white dome will remain, and the fairly small Chinese characters explaining the colors won't be made any larger, or appear in English.

Some cabbies and Netizens have griped that the domes, especially when lit at night, remind people of skulls and death. But the transport bureau is not impressed. Those thinking the new lamps' white plastic shells look bad will just have to live with it.

Some expatriates also complained that the system doesn't show much concern for those who don't read Chinese.

"We know some foreigners hoped there could be English words on the screens as well," Huang said. "But obviously there was no space."

He did point out that expatriates facing a language barrier in reporting bad taxi experiences can now call the 962288 government foreign-service hotline and complaints will be passed on to taxi watchdog.


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