It's easy to find a taxi in just about city in the country. Even on rainy days, anyone standing on a street corner with their arm raised does so in the knowledge that it won't be long before a "little yellow" (
But while the plentiful supply of taxis is convenient for passengers, times are tough for taxi drivers, who are increasingly squeezed by stagnating demand, skyrocketing fuel costs and increasing competition.
While the concept of "turf" between competing taxi fleets is not as entrenched as it was in the past, conflicts between rival groups still make the headlines.
The taxi business is changing with the introduction of drivers' associations that are more focused on consistent management than traditional taxi fleets.
Taipei's five-star Sheraton Hotel elected to sign a contract with Taiwan Taxi (台灣大車隊) over Chuan Tung Taxi (全統計程車隊), the group that formerly cooperated with the Sheraton to provide cabs for hotel guests. The Far Eastern Plaza Hotel and Sunworld Dynasty Hotel followed suit.
Unlike most taxi companies, Taiwan Taxi drivers must wear a uniform and abide by a three-strikes policy, under which the receipt of three customer complaints lodged against the same driver is considered grounds for dismissal.
Chuan Tung taxi drivers protested the move by mobilizing more than 500 cabs on Sept. 26 at each of the three hotels that signed the exclusive contract with Taiwan Taxi. The drivers honked their horns in protest and attempted to stop Taiwan Taxi drivers from lining up to pick up hotel guests.
One driver surnamed Wu (
The Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister paper) said that the Sheraton chose to cooperate with Taiwan Taxi in order to improve customer service.
"The problem is that there are just too many cabs on the streets," said Cherry Lin (
"I have to work 12 hours a day to make ends meet and so much of the money I earn goes straight back into fuel costs," Lin said.
Lin estimated that she might make NT$3,000 in fares each day, while she pays more than NT$1,000 for fuel each day.
"Because of the number of cabs, some customers can be picky," Lin said.
"If your car is not new enough, or large enough, or they just do not like the look of you for any reason, they'll keep waiting for another one," she said.
Figures from the Taipei City Government Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) show there were 31,756 cabs just in Taipei City itself, excluding surrounding Taipei County, as of the end of August.
CHEAPER TO JOIN
Of those, 17,594 belong to taxi companies such as Chuan Tung and Taiwan Taxi, 6,641 are operated by independent owners and 7,521 are members of cooperatives that are cheaper to join than companies.
"Working for a company is more like being an employee, while independent operators and members of cooperatives feel more like small business owners," an administrator at the Taipei DMV said.
High entry requirements for individual taxi drivers who want to operate independently have been purposely put in place, said Yeh Tzu-chuan (
An individual must have been working as a taxi driver for three years with a good record before they can apply for their own license, Yeh said.
By controlling the number of licenses available, the city hopes to limit the total number of taxis on the city's streets.
"We have a massive oversupply situation," Yeh said.
"By some estimates, there are as many taxicabs in the greater Taipei metropolitan area as in all of Shanghai, even though Shanghai is a much bigger city both in terms of size and population," Yeh said.
"This situation is one in which too many `monks' are sharing the same pot of thin gruel," Yeh said.
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