No reason to cheer

I refer to "Good reason to give three cheers for Beijing cabbies" by Hoo Ban Khee in his "Beijing Express" column, Sunday Star, 24 Sept.

Based on my experiences from many of my sojourns in China, for business or pleasure, during the second half of the 1990s, I beg to disagree with Hoo's contention that "Cabbies in Beijing are by and large an honest lot".

Allow me to narrate a few of my unpleasant encounters with some cabbies in Beijing.

In the mid 90s I was promoting a new technology in China and had appointed a consultant in Tianjin, Wang, to do some promotional and liaison works in various parts of China.

Whenever I went to China, Wang would meet me at Beijing International Airport and we travelled together to the capital or other towns and cities by cabs, buses, trains or local airlines whichever was convenient.

In one of these trips we decided to hire a taxi to go to Tianjin. Wang spoke to one taxi driver outside the airport who agreed to take both of us to a hotel in Tianjin for an agreed amount.

We proceeded with our journey and soon we were out of Beijing and got on the highway to Tianjin. Just before reaching the highway tollbooth, the taxi driver told us that he could not go any further because his wife was sick at home. He stopped the taxi by the side of the highway where there were a couple of vans waiting.

The taxi driver told us we had to travel to our destination by van. He approached one van driver and spoke to him. Without our consent he then transferred my luggage to the waiting van and told us to pay the agreed fare to the van driver when we reached our destination.

We had no choice but to alight from the taxi and proceeded with our journey by van.

It was obvious that the taxi driver had "sold" us to the van driver for a fee who would not mind accepting passengers if he could at least recover the cost of fuel and toll charges rather than returning to Tianjin in an empty vehicle.

On another occasion after I had completed my business in Tianjin, Wang and I had to go to Beijing International Airport to catch a flight to Xian for a business meeting.

Wang approached a Beijing taxi driver near the hotel where I stayed. Again the fare was agreed upon and we started our journey. We had more than two hours to reach the Airport, and the journey normally took just over an hour by road.

After half an hour on the road it dawned upon us that the taxi was going through villages along country roads and avoiding the tolled highways. When questioned the taxi driver pointed out that the agreed fare did not include the toll charges and even if we agreed then and there to pay extra, it would take more than half an hour to get into the tolled highway.

When we arrived at the airport it was barely half an hour before the departure of our flight to Xian. We were lucky to be able to catch the flight because it was delayed as frequently happened for local flights. However, though feeling anxious to get to the airport, I did enjoy the journey, as I was able to see many rural villages along the way.

The last time I had my unpleasant encounter with a cabby in China was when my wife and I stopped over in Beijing after our fabulous tour of Xinjiang in 2000. After a night in Beijing we wanted to go to the airport to catch a flight home. I hired a taxi from the hotel where we stayed and agreed with the cabby the fare he demanded.

Instead of going by the tolled highway to the airport, he used the secondary road and was soon caught in a massive traffic jam. When questioned he told us that the agreed fare did not include the toll charges!

We would have missed our flight if we continued along this road, so I had no choice but to agree to pay for the additional toll charges if he could turn back and use the tolled highway to the airport. He did and we barely made it to the airport for our flight home.

The last episode marked the end of my sojourn in China. I have since given up both my business dealings and travels in China, not only because of dishonest cabbies but also of other reasons.

May be the attitudes of the cabbies in Beijing has changed for the better during the last five years or Hoo, after living two years in Beijing, has been lucky to be considered by the cabbies as a local.

This is because cabbies in many cities only fleece tourists, just like many of our cabbies in Kuala Lumpur.


An edited version of the above was published in Star Two on 3 Oct 06. 2008