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Taxi agents threatened with violence

AGENTS from the taxi watchdog are meeting vicious resistance from unlicensed taxi drivers in their latest campaign against illegal cabs.

Two weeks ago, the watchdog extended its crackdown across the city. Agents on patrol in suburban Jinshan, Minhang and Songjiang districts had received threatening letters and text messages and some had been attacked while on duty.

No serious injuries have been reported so far, according to the Shanghai Traffic Law Enforcement Team, which has joined up with police to raid underground taxi businesses in Shanghai in response to a call by national authorities.

Wu Runyuan, a spokesman for the Shanghai Traffic Law Enforcement Team, said illegal taxi drivers had bribed janitors and the owners of small stores near the watchdog's office to tip them off when the traffic law enforcement team was going out on a raid.

"We even found a makeshift GPS system had been installed by a worker under one of our cars while it was in for routine repairs, so illegal drivers knew where the vehicle was at all times," Wu said. "Again, he was paid to do it."

Police have been informed about all these plots.

"Some unlicensed drivers are now trying to make their activities less noticeable by giving out their phone numbers to regular clients, rather than touting for business on the street," Wu said.

The authority has stepped up patrols at busy traffic hubs where these "black cabs" usually pick up clients.

An investigation found 90 percent of unlicensed taxi drivers in Minhang, Jiading and Baoshan districts were from outside Shanghai. Citywide, the portion of migrant illegal cab drivers is believed to have increased from 50 percent to 70 percent in the past couple of years, the team said.

This creates another headache for inspection teams, Wu said, because drivers from outside the city often do not understand what they are doing is against the law.

Wu said many of the unlicensed drivers argued back when challenged by inspectors. "They say: 'So I bought a car and now I drive passengers around to make a living. What's wrong with that?'" said Wu.

As most of the migrant drivers also live in suburban towns, the taxi watchdog is cooperating with suburban governments to give lectures and persuade them join licensed taxi fleets. The team said up to 1,700 Shanghai natives gave up their underground taxi business to join legal companies last year.

Now the city is facing an influx of shabby minibuses and cars coming from outside Shanghai. Most of these vehicles carry car plates registered in nearby Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, Wu said.

The agents carried out raids outside the Auchan supermarket on Changyang Road and Metro Line 4's Dalian Road Station on Monday evening and detained more than 30 illegal taxis.

Citywide, 1,557 underground taxis, buses and two-wheelers have been detained in the past two weeks.

Illegal taxi operators face a fine of up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,312) while underground buses can be fined up to 100,000 yuan.


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