“The economy is so bad, I often roam around looking for passengers, but do not get a single one for a whole morning,” said Ho Chin-chuang, a taxi driver of eight years who lined up in front of a hospital in Taipei earlier this month.
Ho and other taxi operators who have seen business drop because of the economic downturn issued a call recently for the government to impose a quota on the number of taxis countrywide.
At present, the number of registered taxi drivers is estimated at more than 90,000, of which more than 31,000 operate in Taipei City, official statistics show.
The figures do not include unlicensed cabs.
With the low threshold for becoming a taxi driver, many people who have lost their jobs in the financial downturn have turned to it as a source of income, meaning that the true number of taxis is likely to be larger.
Taxis in Taipei have seen a drop in business since the city’s MRT system was launched 12 years ago. Other improvements to the country’s public transportation have had the same effect elsewhere.
A Taipei City report found that the city’s taxi drivers worked an average of 10.4 hours per day last year. On average, they were without passengers for 3.5 hours per day. Most worked 27 or 28 days per month, yet earned an average of only NT$1,754 per day — before deducting daily gasoline costs of about NT$617.
The situation has worsened this year as the economic crisis has hit most sectors of society, leading more people to opt for cheaper forms of transportation, said Chen Yuan-min (陳遠明), the secretary-general of the Taipei City Transportation Federation, which represents more than 1,000 taxi companies and 20,000 taxi drivers citywide.
Because the city’s taxi fleet is too large and passenger numbers have plummeted, about 70 percent of taxis cruising Taipei City streets are empty at any given time, Chen said.
“As a result, many cabbies have been forced to extend their working hours to 12 hours per day, earning just NT$2,000 per day before deducting other costs,” Chen said.
He said the government should bring the number of registered taxi licenses down from 90,000 to around 35,000 by 2013, when the third stage of the Taipei MRT is completed. Cutting the fleet by this amount could drive the rate of unoccupied taxis in Taipei down from 70 percent to 35 percent, he said.
Chen expressed support for a proposal made by taxi operators that the government buy back operation licenses that are not being leased or used and have those who are interested in becoming taxi drivers bid for the licenses.
The taxi sector comprises three major groupings: taxi companies, which lease cars or operating certificates to drivers with vocational certificates; taxi cooperatives, each of which comprises at least 20 individual taxi drivers, with each paying between NT$600 and NT$800 in monthly dues; and individual taxi drivers who operate with their own certificates.
At the suggestion of an advisory committee, the Directorate General of Highways has stopped issuing new taxi license plates to taxi companies and taxi cooperatives.
It is granting license plates only to so-called “excellent taxi drivers,” referring to those who have been members of a taxi company or cooperative as a taxi driver for six years with a good record, agency officials said.
The number of new licenses issued to such taxi drivers is around 1,000 per year, the officials said.
Meanwhile, Wang Mu-han (王穆衡), head of the Transportation Corporation and Management Division of the Institute of Transportation, said that even if the government were to buy back taxi licenses, it would not solve the industry’s problems and could cause many employees in the sector to lose their jobs while increasing the number of illegal cabbies.
He said that creating demand for taxi services could be another option to help the industry, citing as an example a new carpool pilot program in Taipei City and near high speed rail stations.
But some customers are not concerned with the drop in business for taxi drivers.
Wang Mei-yu, who takes taxis only occasionally, questioned why taxis had been allowed to increase fares when oil prices were high, but fares had not now been lowered back to normal levels although oil prices have dropped.
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