On the road amid the coronavirus outbreak

2020-02-16 CGTN Editor:Mo Hong'e

This is the third episode of our series "Faces Fighting Coronavirus" chronicling people from different walks of life who are affected by the outbreak as well as those who are trying to keep their lives as normal as they can to keep our society running. You can find the second story here.

Our third episode shows what it's like to make a living on the road while others stay in.

The streets of Beijing are slowly waking up from an extended Lunar New Year holiday, as millions return to work amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. To minimize the risks of cross-infection, residents have been advised to stay indoors and office workers encouraged to work from home.

But not everyone has that option. For tens of thousands of taxi drivers in the city, the extra-long holiday overshadowed by epidemic fears is bad news.

Wang Qiang had been on the road since 4:30 a.m. He took the usual precautions: Face mask and gloves on, windows open, and disinfecting the car's interior after dropping each passenger off. By evening, he made a little over 300 yuan (43 U.S. dollars), after driving around the capital for more than 12 hours. This was a good day.

On a regular day, Wang said he can make 500-600 yuan. Now since people haven't been leaving their homes, the 47-year-old has seen his daily earnings halved, he told CGTN.

Drivers like Wang have to shell out a management fee of some 200 yuan a day on average to taxi companies in order to operate the vehicles, whether they are working or not. Setting aside the basic expenses, including gas, there is little if anything left for the driver to take home over the last few weeks.

A handful of taxi companies own all registered cabs in Beijing, as in 85 percent of Chinese cities.

"I see no one hailing taxis from the street or on the internet. In the last hour I haven't had one passenger. And the car is burning gas," Wang said.

Yet he still considers himself more fortunate than those drivers living far away from the city. "Some of them can't even come out to work because their villages have been sealed off (to control the spread of the virus)," he said.

When business is slow and many services disrupted, each day on the road can feel like an uphill struggle. Wang said he eats once a day at home after work because there was hardly an open restaurant in the city.

Another driver, Zhang Shouxing, said the thought of his cab breaking down – not the coronavirus – is on his mind.

"The car has got a problem but there is nowhere to fix it at the moment. If I call a repair shop, no one will be there to answer," Zhang said. "Then I could get a parking fine."

Zhang said these issues are affecting taxi drivers all over the country. In Shanghai, taxi companies have lowered the rental fee by 80-120 yuan a day to ease drivers' burden. More cities are following suit with reductions, some more substantial than others.

Last week, one city in east China's Zhejiang, another province hard-hit by COVID-19 outbreak after Hubei, waived the fee for drivers who are sickened by the coronavirus or unable to work due to quarantine measures.

Drivers in Beijing are still awaiting a decision on a bailout, Zhang told CGTN.

Taxis contributed 28 percent of all traffic flow in China's cities. But the drivers have been scrambling to save their livelihoods for years since ride-hailing apps have become mainstream in the country.

That doesn't mean their jobs are less important, especially in times of crisis. After the lockdown of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, 6,000 local taxis have been enlisted to serve as emergency vehicles for communities citywide. Under an effective transport ban, these designated taxis can be a life saver for those in need of medical attention.

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