ROAD TRAVEL, TRAFFIC, TRUCKS, BUSES AND TAXIS IN CHINA

ROAD TRAVEL IN CHINA

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Highway from Sichuan to Tibet
China has 1,870,661 kilometers of road. Of this 1,515,797 kilometers are paved, with at least 34,288 kilometers of expressways. The highway network increased from 2,300 miles in the early 1990s to 11,800 miles in the early 2000s.

Shanghai is better organized than Beijing transportation-wise. It has a larger population than Beijing but just one-third of the number of cars. (Shanghai has imposed limits since the 1980s on the number of autos that can be registered in the city and sells license plates through an auction system.) The transit system in Shanghai is better designed than the one in Beijing.

Roads between the major cities are generally two-lane roads. Multiple-lane, American-style highways are still a new idea in China but more and more of them are being built all the time. The Chinese expressway network doubled between 2001 and 2005.

Some of the new modern highways are immaculate and well designed with four lanes, attractive guard rails, well-maintained medians with plants and hedges and sloping embankments beyond the guardrails, with a buffer area, often lined with poplars separating the road from the countryside. It is not usual to find a dotted line on a map is a brand new highway on the ground.

Rural roads are often in poor condition. Some roads have pavement sections that run only a few miles and then deteriorate into potholes, washboard ripples, dirt and rocks. Maps are often unreliable. Distances can be deceptive. Even on paved roads traffic is often slowed by potholes and slow trucks. A journey of a 100 miles through the mountains sometimes takes four or five hours. In villages, it is often impossible to drive. Villages were mostly built before people had cars. Homes are linked by foot paths.

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a road in Inner Mongolia
Many highways are dominated by fully loaded trucks that have to brake hard when they go downhill. Car travel is still lighter than might be expected because Chinese are still not big on the idea of taking long car trips and tolls are high. Tractors sometimes use the main highways. Farmers sometimes put grain down on secondary roads to dry or to be threshed by passing vehicles.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources on Automobiles in China : Chinese Automobile chineseautomobile.com ; China Car Forum Automaker List chinacarforums.com ; China Car Forums chinacarforums.com China Car Times chinacartimes.com ; China Motors. Ru china-motors.ru ; Road Travel: Wikipedia article on China National Highways Wikipedia ; Global Security globalsecurity.org ; Map of China’s Highways maps-of-china.net : Karakoram Highway in China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia Joho the Map John the Map ; Photos Karakorum Highway Blog

Driving and Owning a Car: Expat Blog Report on Driving in China expat-blog.com ; Driving in China Report destoop.com ; On the Road China ontheroadinchina.com Wikitravel Article Wikitravel Driving-In.com Driving-In.com ; Travel China Guide Travel China Guide “ Association for Safe International Road Travel: asirt.org ; Chinese Automobile Association asirt.org

Links in this Website: TRANSPORTATION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; TRAINS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; NEW TIBETAN TRAIN Factsanddetails.com/China ; AUTOMOBILES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DRIVING AND OWNING A CAR IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ROAD TRAVEL AND BUS ACCIDENTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOREIGN CAR COMPANIES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; AIR TRAVEL IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN TRANSPORTATION Factsanddetails.com/China ; KARAKORUM HIGHWAY Factsanddetails.com/China

New Roads and Highways in China

A huge program to build multiple-lane highways throughout China was launched in the 1990s. The first section---a 12-mile stretch of expressway in a Shanghai suburb---was completed in 1998. By the mid 2000s, 20,000 miles had been built nationwide. In 2000, China boasted about 7,450 miles of expressways. A decade later it had 40,400 miles, and plans to leapfrog the United States by 2020.

Considerably more money is being poured into building a highway system for cars than developing public transportation. In 2005, the government announced it was going to spend $250 billion over 30 years ro build 53,000 miles of intercity highways and urban ring roads. The system is expected to exceed the American Interstate system, the world’s largest highway system with 46,000 miles of roads, by around 2020.

As of 2004, there were than 15,000 highway projects underway in China. Some of the new roads, especially in the western part of China, are nearly empty. The plan is create road infrastructure first, and development, settlers and industries will follow.

Chinese expressways finished in 2008 will circle the earth 1.5 times.

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Map of China's NTHS Expressways

Many of the newly installed traffic lights have meters that indicate how many seconds are left before the light changes. In recent years, more traffic lights and bus lanes have been added to reduce traffic jams and cut the rate of automobile accidents.

Traffic in China

Drivers in Beijing complain that rush hour now lasts all day. Even though Beijing has highways with 10 and 12 lanes and six concentric ring roads it can take more than an hour to travel the 6½-kilometer diameter of the city center. To reduce congestion, car access to some streets is restricted, with vehicle only allowed to use these streets on designated days according to the numbers of their license plates, Beijing has not been as aggressive trying to reduce the number of cars as Shanghai and Guangzhou

In 1995, there were 3.5 million bicycles and 350,000 cars in Shanghai. At that time traffic often grinded to a halt with bicycle gridlock when to many bicycles from different directions converged on a single spot. Over the past decade or so bicycles have given way to cars as hard as the Shanghai government has tried to prevent that from taking place.

In the 1980s, planners in charge of overhauling and modernizing Shanghai made a great effort to spare the city traffic jams and pollution by constructed bridges, elevated highways and a new subway system. The government has also tried to keep cars off the road by making it expensive to own a car and difficult to get licence plates and drivers licenses (See Above).

So far the effort has fallen way short of its goals. Shanghai has become choked with cars, fumes, traffic jams and gridlock just like any other city. The planners planned for Shanghai to reach the 2 million vehicle mark in 2020. It reached that figure in 2005 and growth continues at a rate of about 15 percent a year. Another miscalculation has been the subway system. Some lines have fewer than expected riders.

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Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man artist

Even if trains are available planners have to overcome an increasingly cavalier American attitude about driving. One Buick owner, who has a new train line extending to his community, told the New York Times, “I’m hoping other people will ride it so that the traffic gets better. I’ll keep driving my car, though. It’s more comfortable because I can listen to music, use the air conditioner, and its not crowded.” He added that fixing Shanghai’s traffic problem was the government’s problem.

To relieve congestion an effort is being made to reserve some roads for cars and others for bicycles. So far the trend favors cars. In 2004, bicycles were banned from all major roads in Shanghai to make more room for cars.

Describing a traffic jam on a relatively lightly-traveled road in Inner Mongolia Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “It had all started with a few trucks whose fuel lies had frozen. Other motorists began to pass them on the two-lane road, and occasionally they encountered a stubborn oncoming car. Drivers faced off, honking, while the line fo vehicles grew behind them, eventually it became impossible to go in either direction. Some tried to go off road , and the usually made it fifty yards before getting stuck. Men in loafers slipped on the snow, trying to dig out cars with their bare hands, There was no sign of police or traffic control. Meanwhile truckers had crawled beneath their vehicles, where they lit road flares and held them up to their frozen fuel lines.

Beijing Traffic

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Shanghai traffic
As of December, Beijing counted 4. 7million registered vehicles, with 2,000 new ones joining the clog each day. That is more than 700,000 new vehicles this year, which was up from 550,000 new vehicles last year, 376,000 in the preceding year and 252,000 the year before that. When the number reaches 6.5 million, traffic researchers calculate, the Beijing streets will be fully saturated. Some would say they already are: in June, a survey by I.B.M. of 20 global metropolises rated Beijing traffic as tied for the world’s worst, along with Mexico City.[Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, December 22, 2010]

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Besides the increased traffic in Beijing, the run on car sales has resulted in such practical problems as where to park the vehicles. Wu Caibao, a university administrator who bought a red Chevy in April, said the problem just keeps intensifying. "So many of my neighbors have bought cars recently that I have to come home early from work just to find a place to park." Chinese economic policies are designed to nurture domestic automakers and make car ownership accessible to people who half a generation ago thought themselves lucky to afford a bicycle. The Chery QQ, for example, sells for about $4,500. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2011]

Beijing Traffic Reaches Alarming Levels in 2010

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Beijing is girded by concentric ring roads that feel like nooses strangling the city during peak traffic hours. It is not uncommon for trucks headed into the city to be backed up for days. One epic jam in August 2010 lasted nine days, and during a rainy Friday in September, the capital almost came to a standstill, prompting concerns from the Politburo about how the government of the world's most populous country could function if nobody could move.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2011]

In July 2010 Beijing city officials noted that rush-hour traffic speed had dropped nearly 4 percent in one year, to an average of 15 miles per hour, and was headed for 9 miles an hour by 2015. That is, roughly, bicycle speed. One the taxi driver told the New York Times that he recalled a jam in February 2010 that left him and his passengers stalled for nearly three hours. “It was a combination of rain and everyone going on vacation before Spring Festival,” he said. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, December 22, 2010]

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Beijing traffic
“In September, another vacation exodus---this time for Autumn Festival---gridlocked the entire city, leading to 140 traffic backups in the evening rush hour,” Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times. “According to a senior journalist at one official media outlet, that episode prompted President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to weigh in, asking Beijing city and Communist Party leaders what was to be done. The journalist, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said Beijing leaders had suggested ways to halt population growth in Beijing and cap the number of new automobiles. Mr. Hu was said to have rejected some of the more restrictive proposals as too draconian for a progressive national capital. The city opted instead to throw more traffic officers onto the streets. [Ibid]

In September 2010 Evan Osnos wrote in the The New Yorker website: “Something strange is happening in Beijing: The city is freezing up. The Chinese capital has always functioned in a register of productive and tolerable clamor: busy, frenetic, and congested, yes, but manageable and irresistibly interesting. Cabbing across town at rush hour usually required reading material heftier than a periodical but lighter than Proust. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker website, September 21, 2010]

But over the summer and into the fall, something deep in the municipal DNA has gone berserk and is replicating fast enough to turn the city into “a giant, nightmarish, gridlocked parking lot,” as The Wall Street Journal’s Shai Oster put it last month. First, there was the bizarre, metaphor-friendly ten-day traffic jam on a sixty mile stretch of highway outside of the city’sparked, it seemed, by a flurry of coal deliveries to factories---but now we are looking at something less like a freak event and more like a devolution of the species. As Oster points out this week, the congestion seems to have passed some imperceptible Rubicon and become, more or less, unworkable. These photos, circulating around the Chinese Web, show people walking beside their cars. It doesn’t have quite the drama of the usual abandoned-cars-with-doors-open sci-fi set piece, but it’s getting there. [Ibid]

Part of the problem is that the city’s usual car-use restrictions are being lifted over the Mid-Autumn and National Day holidays. But, far more relevant, is the fact that the population has hit nearly twenty million---a decade ahead of projections---fueled by a constant influx of migrants in search of opportunity. And who could blame them? But with Beijingers driving off the lots with new cars nearly two thousand times a day---and coming to a halt a few feet away, one assumes---this is the right moment to point out that electric bikes just might be one signpost to salvation. I’ve been riding the Turtle King more than ever this fall and have come to see Beijing as two cities in one: a paralyzed, Hobbesian mess in the center of the road, and a fleet, functioning, open-air society on the edges. Take your pick.

Reasons for Awful Beijing Traffic

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Train and traffic going to the Great Wall
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Part of the problem is poor planning. Curiously, a city of more than six million drivers has virtually no stop signs, turning intersections into playing fields for games of vehicular chicken. Freeway entrance ramps appear just before exit ramps, guaranteeing multilane disarray as cars seeking to get off try to punch through lines of cars seeking to get on. Beijing drivers do not help. The city’s driving style is best likened to a post-holiday sale in which dozens of shoppers mill about a single bin, elbowing for advantage---in this case, entry to a single lane of traffic that is probably blocked by a taxi anyway.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, December 22, 2010]

“We have built many flyovers and expressways,” Zhao Jie, a transportation expert at the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, told the New York Times. “We have spent quite a lot of money on subways and bus lines, and Beijing probably has the lowest bus fares in the world. But the stimuli to car ownership are even more powerful.” Duan Haizhu, a 26-year-old taxi driver, put it more elegantly during a recent crosstown crawl in his orange-and-brown Hyundai. “The speed of building roads is nowhere near the speed of people buying cars,” he said. “And people won’t stop buying cars.” [Ibid]

Week-Long Traffic Jam Outside Beijing

In 2010, Beijing and Mexico City were named as having the world’s worst traffic jams. In August 2010, a huge traffic jam---up to 60 miles long, on a freeway linking Beijing and Inner Mongolia’s capital, Hohhot---trapped drivers for days and provided money-making opportunities for locals selling cup of noodles to stranded drivers for outrageous prices. “I spent five days and five nights last week without moving,” he told the New York Times. “part from sleeping, you just eat. And you can only eatthe instant noodles. These cost about 45 cents, from a roadside hawker, plus $1.20, for the water needed to soften them.”[Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, August 27, 2010]

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Carrying a rocket part
on the highway
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “The gridlock has been building for up to a year, the inevitable result of the difficulty of China’s construction crews in keeping up with China’s breakneck growth.In this case, a government decision to satisfy surging demand for electric power by tapping Inner Mongolia’s coalfields has flooded local highways with thousands of coal trucks, overwhelming police officers’ best efforts to herd them.

“The government is building two new rail lines on the trucks’ route, one for coal and the other for freight, as well as a second passenger-only line to relieve congestion. But those railroads will not open until at least 2012, and perhaps later...And so huge traffic jams... are all but guaranteed to continue. Indeed, logistics experts here say the miracle is that more such bottlenecks do not occur.”

The Beijing-Hohhot highway problem has been blamed on government construction not being able to keep up its ambitious energy plans. “Mongolian coal production has exploded---up 37 percent to 637 million tons last year alone, with an additional 15 percent increase expected this year. Much of the coal is supposed to move to seaports on China’s east coast, to be shipped to big cities in the south. But pig-in-python style, even China’s brand-new freeway system cannot handle the volume.”

“On an ordinary freeway, the 300-mile drive from Hohhot to Beijing would consume several hours. Here, China’s coal haulers say, the same trip generally requires up to three days’ travel, including weight checks and unloading coal. Recent traffic jams have pushed travel time to a week or more.”

“But even moving west to Beijing---a six-lane stretch that winds past popular Great Wall tourist sites---traffic jams can stall drivers for hours. On a recent evening, a passenger whiled away two hours on a deadened stretch 60 miles from Beijing, as thousands of coal trucks idled and vendors darted among the vehicles, selling apples and other treats....The more roads they build, the more congested it gets, one trucker said...And then they build some more roads.”

Horrendous Traffic Jam in Southern China

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Reporting Hetaocun in southern China, Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Compared with some of the more spectacular recent traffic jams in China, among them a 60-mile snarl last summer that paralyzed a major artery outside Beijing for two weeks, the thousands of travelers who spent the night trapped on a snow-coated highway in southwest Guizhou Province on Monday did not even warrant a mention in the local news media. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 18, 2011]

“The immediate effect of the information vacuum was to suck more unwitting victims---including this reporter---into the morass, which stretched for miles along the four-lane affair linking Guizhou north to Chongqing. Stranded drivers chain-smoked, stomped their feet against the chill and cursed the government for failing to come to their rescue. As the night wore on, fuel lines froze and cellphone batteries died.” [Ibid]

“By noon on Tuesday, more than 12 hours after the blockage began, the frustration and anxiety were mounting. Truckloads of oranges were going bad, and Xi Xinli was nervously eyeing his cargo of 30 hogs, a noisome pile of pink complaining flesh that was bound for the slaughterhouse. “You would be annoyed, too, if you were stuck together like that without food or water,” Mr. Xi said.” [Ibid]

“People were faring no better, especially the busloads of migrant workers who had endured clotted roadways for as long as three days. One especially unlucky bunch left Guangdong Province on Saturday only to find themselves stuck on their bus for eight hours when an earlier bout of freezing rain crippled a portion of southern China. “I’m hungry, but the food they’re selling is too expensive, and I’m tired but too cold to sleep,” said Zhao Ling, 25, a carpenter trying to return home to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan.” [Ibid]

“Mr. Zhao and his fellow passengers thought they were smart by traveling before the Chinese New Year’s crush, which starts in earnest next week. In 2008, the last time unusually snowy weather buried China’s southern flank, more than six million people were stranded as they tried to make their way home for the New Year’s holiday. That crisis prompted a national debate about the government’s ability to deal with weather-related calamities and led to a rare, well-publicized apology from Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.” [Ibid]

Much of the region has been battered by unusually cold weather, and earlier this month, a storm shut down most of Guizhou’s highways, including the road to Guangzhou, where thousands were stuck for four days. According to local news reports, the government eventually mobilized with emergency food and water, and gave each trapped passenger 100 renminbi, or about $15. Mr. Zhao and the others would not be so lucky. As the hours passed, he fidgeted in his seat and wondered whether the traffic police would ever show up. “Maybe they all went home early for the holiday,” he said with a smirk.

Benefits of Traffic Jam in Southern China

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Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “The residents of Hetaocun, however, saw the unmoving necklace of taillights from their mountain village and got entrepreneurial. They roused children from their beds, loaded boxes of instant noodles into baskets and began hawking their staples to a captive clientele. The 500 percent markup did not appear to dent sales. “It rarely snows here, so this is a good thing,” said Yi Zhonggui, 42, as he wove past stalled vehicles with his wife and 4-year-old daughter lugging thermoses of hot water.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 18, 2011]

“As the supply of noodles ran low, residents began gathering up the walnuts that give the village its name. In between cries of “walnuts, walnuts,” salesmen like Chen Xianneng obliged the desperate with snippets of news from the front, even if the information was based on hearsay. “The roadway is frozen, and the trucks can’t get down the hill,” he would say, cracking shells open with his bare hands as a sort of sales pitch.” (Later, it became apparent that an overturned truck carrying toilets was largely responsible for the mess.)” [Ibid]

“Moments later came a cascade of shouts, followed by the honking of horns and then the coughing of starting engines that became contagious. As people scurried back into their vehicles, the bedraggled, frozen column began to creep forward, slowly at first, but then with more resolve.” [Ibid]

“The hawkers from Hetaocun stepped back onto the highway shoulder, their expressions forlorn. But then the snow began to fall again and Mr. Yi, the farmer-turned-noodle vendor, began to smile. He repeated the weather forecast he had heard that morning---several more days of freezing precipitation---and told his wife to stay put. “Don’t worry,” he said. “They’ll get stuck again.” [Ibid]

Beijing Keeps Car Restrictions

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road work at a tunnel
In April 2009, the car restrictions put in place for the Beijing Olympics were extended an additional 12 months. A fifth of the city's private vehicles and a third of official cars will continue to be barred from the roads every weekday, the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau has said. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, April 6, 2009]

By keeping these vehicles off the road, the city's environmental protection bureau estimates that emissions have been kept down by 375 tons daily or 10 percent. A further measure to extend a ban on high-polluting cars and trucks from the center to cover the whole city will save a similar amount, it estimated. [Ibid]

Opinion was mixed about the desirability of the extension. “I feel these controls are a violation of people's rights. The government hasn't looked after the interests of car owners,” a new driver told The Guardian. “If they want to reduce traffic they should use economic measures, such as higher petrol taxes, rather than directly ordering people off the road.” To get around the license plate system some people have bought beat up old cars to drive on the day they were not allowed to drive on. [Ibid]

Beijing Traffic Plan

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Parking on the sidewalk
Describing the main components of a new a traffic plan for Beijing introduced in December 2010, Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “280,000 new parking spaces; 1,000 share-a-bike stations; 348 miles of new subway track; 125 miles of new downtown streets; 23 miles of tunnels; 9 new transportation hubs; 3 congestion zones; and 1 cure-all, “the use of modern technology.” But even all that has been largely dismissed as not enough. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, December 22, 2010]

Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “To be fair, perhaps few cities could have handled Beijing’s driver-population explosion better. Twenty years ago, Beijing was a city of bicycles and shabby, charming alleys, a single limited-access highway tracing a lazy rectangle around the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Today, five freeways girdle the city, eight more spoke from the suburbs to downtown, and the subway soon will stretch to 10 times its 1990 length.” [Ibid]

New public transit initiatives are also underway. In late December, for example, Beijing opened five new subway and rail lines. But Beijing's transit system is not nearly as well-designed as the one in Shanghai, which has a larger population but just one-third of the number of cars. (Shanghai has imposed limits since the 1980s on the number of autos that can be registered in the city and sells license plates through an auction system.)

The December 2010 proposal, Wines wrote, was “a clear compromise of better public transportation---longer subways and bike racks---and the parking lots, tunnels and surface roads that Beijing’s auto-centric society craves. And it hints at more restrictive measures, including limiting new car purchases to buyers who can prove Beijing residence, or even capping the number of cars that can be registered here annually.” [Ibid]

Taxis in China

A typical Beijing cab driver in 2001 had to drive 12 or 13 hours a day, seven days a week, to earn $240 a month. Those that are wiling to work 15 hour a day could make $300 a month. In recent years the number of unregistered taxis has risen. Many drivers of registered taxis complain they have to work twice as many hours as a few years ago to make the same money. Taxis are only supposed to remain on the road for six years.

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Three-wheel taxi

Taxi companies determine the wages and the working conditions of their drivers. In Beijing 300 companies control the profitable taxi market with an estimated 65,000 drivers. Drivers want a union but the government has blocked their efforts.

The taxi industry in Beijing began in earnest in 1992 when the economic liberalizations began to kick in. Taxi companies---most founded by local government bodies---took out loans to buy the cars. When the loans came due the companies demanded that the drivers buy the cars so they could pay the loans. Later the government nullified this arrangement and required the companies to buy back the cars. The companies took advantage of this and calculated the values of the cars at a discounted rate, forcing the drivers to take big losses.

The Beijing government is not the only local government that has taken advantage of taxi drivers. In the city of Dazhou in Sichuan, drivers used their life savings and went into debt to buy permits for $10,000 that allowed them to work in the city only to have the city require them to buy another equally expensive permit. Drivers staged protests in Dazhou and Chengdu and went ti Beijing to plead their case. They drivers made little headway. Some were sent to jail.

Some taxi drivers wear white gloves. Cab drivers in Beijing have their own radio show, "Hello Taxi," which features soothing music by Lionel Richie and John Denver, traffic reports, call-in anecdotes and car parts advertisements.

In 2008, there were several strikes involving taxi drivers upset over competition from unlicensed taxis. Taxi drivers were also upset by high fuel prices and increased rental fees for their cars. Dozens of police were called in to restore order when more than 100 cab drivers carrying bricks and rocks smashed windows of unlicensed taxis in Guangzhou in southern China.

Buses in China

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Gas-powered bus
China is home to 700,000 buses and more bus manufacturers than any other country. Of the 90 or so companies, only 20 make more than 1,000 buses. Competition is very fierce. Some companies have succeeded by stealing designs of other companies and using gangster tactic to get their clients to buy their buses.

The buses in Zigong have huge five-foot-high bags on their roofs which run the length and width of the bus. The 1000-cubic- foot bags contain enough natural gas---which costs half as much as gasoline---to propel the bus for 50 miles. Potential riders know when the bag hangs limply from the roof they should think about taking a different bus. Beijing introduced 5,000 environmentally-friendly, natural-gas-powered buses to run at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Bus Travel in China

The Lonely Planet guide for China described one incident witnessed by a German traveler journeying between Wuzhou and Yangshuo involving two competing buses. "After getting up perilously close to its rear bumper and blasting furiously with an armory of horns, the driver managed, in a hair-raising exhibition of reckless abandon and daredevilry, to sweep around the opposite lane on a blind bend and be the first to get a group of passengers."

“The other driver, determined not to let this fellow get away with such deviously unsporting behavior, pulled up and started thumping him through the window. A decisive knockout proving elusive in such cramped quarters, the two soon leapt out of their buses to continue the punch-up on the roadside." The police soon arrived and without consulting the passengers handcuffed the drivers and took them away. "It was five hours before new drivers were dispatched to the scene of the crime."

Another Lonely Planet bus traveler reported sharing a bus with a Chinese girl with motion sickness. "The driver kept flying along, turned the internal loudspeaker on and blasted the girl: 'Hey you behind! get your head in! Get it in! Observe safety! Observes safety. While his voice rose to a frenzy, he turned in his seat to look back and the bus swayed violently."

One group of tourists on a broken down bus had to form a human chain across a road to get a vehicle to stop and help them.

Fake Bus Service in Shenzhen Results in Mass Mugging

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: They have fake Louis Vuitton handbags, Rolex watches, Rolls-Royce cars and even entire Ikea stores. Now the counterfeiters of Shenzhen have outdone themselves by running a fake city bus service. The scam, intended to exploit the very lowest rung of urban Chinese commuters, combined the drudgery of a late-night journey on public transport with the misery of a backstreet mugging. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, March 9, 2012]

“Passengers unfortunate enough to be waiting at the bus stop on an evening when the fake No 868 drew up imagined they were boarding the real thing on a heavily used route between the Fuyong and Pingshan districts of one of the largest cities in the world. Passengers bought their tickets as normal, but once the bus was in motion they were confronted by four burly "conductors" who demanded everything they had in their bags and wallets. Any resistance was met with a beating. In some instances, the fake bus diverted from its regular route, with the thugs manhandling the passengers out on to the pavement and abandoning them in a different part of the city. [Ibid]

“The scam appears to have been the brainchild of a disgruntled former employee named only as Mr Xu. He was a driver on the No 868 route before being forced into retirement. In 2011, after nurturing his criminal plot for some months in his home town in Hubei province, Mr Xu assembled two business partners - identified by police as Mr Guo and Mr Gong - and invested 40,000 yuan ($5950) in a decommissioned bus he found in a Dongguan scrapyard. A further 10,000 yuan was spent on a paint touch-up and fake No 868 plates. [Ibid]

“However, his elaborate ruse had two important flaws: all of the victims were by definition poor, which meant that the average amount taken from each of them was no more than $10; while, because the gang was operating late at night, there were never more than a dozen people to rob at any one time. The gang was caught in March 2012 week after police boarded a suspect bus and, according to a local newspaper account, noticed that four "large men" on board suddenly became rather nervous. Unable to bear the tension, the quartet took thousands of yuan from their pockets and invited the officers to tea - an offer that was declined in favour of four immediate arrests. [Ibid]

Trucks in China

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Old-style Chinese-made truck
There are more than 1 million trucking and removal companies is China. The industry is hampered by provincial laws that often require advance approval to cross between provinces. Sometimes trucks have to endure customs checks and even unload and reload their cargo from one truck to another, increasing transportation time and the risk of spoiling and theft--when crossing from one province to another.

Describing a ride on delivery van making a 1,500 mile round trip between Beijing and Guangzhou, an MBA student told the Economist: "The trip took five and a three-quarter days. the truck was idle half the time. The average speed was 21 miles an hour. Not only did the truck have to carry its own fuel, but also its own mechanic. She witnessed 40 crashes, 20 head-on collisions and many major injuries. Half the time the two lane highway was under construction."

Truckers say they regularly encounter pieces or furniture and sometimes even dead bodies on the highway. One Chinese trucker told the Wall Street Journal, the corpses "could be genuine hit-and-run victims, or props for some highway-robbery or extortion scheme." Truck hijacking is a serous problem in southern China.

The roads in northern China are filled with Liberation-brand trucks carrying freight south from Inner Mongolia. Wind sometimes blow the cargo to one side so the trucks almost listand look as if they might topple over.

Truck Strike in Shanghai

In April 2011, thousands of truck drivers in Shanghai staged a three day protest over rising fuel prices they say was crippling their businesses. Truck drivers blockaded part of the city's port---China's busiest---disrupting the flow of goods. The protests were one sign of rising public anger over surging inflation.

Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, Truck drivers disrupted operations at Shanghai’s seaport. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at a container-handling facility at the city’s Baoshan port, news reports stated, monitored by dozens of police officers.... Thousands of drivers staged a noisy protest at the huge Waigaoqiao port, smashing truck windows of drivers who had refused to join them, and officers arrested several drivers who tried to overturn a police car. The drivers were protesting low wages, increased fuel prices---the government recently raised diesel prices by five percent---and higher fees imposed by port operators. “The various fees they have to pay leave them no profit,” said Liu Cheng, a law professor and labor specialist at Shanghai Normal University. “This kind of conflict is hard to resolve because it’s the government that is collecting those fees.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, April 22, 2011]

Near one of Shanghai's main port areas, where the Yangtze River meets the sea, groups of truck drivers milled around Friday near a long line of trucks parked bumper to bumper and side by side. On man told Reuters they can't even afford to eat because the price of gasoline is now so high. China has raised fuel prices several times in the past year, blaming the rising cost of crude oil. This month gasoline and diesel prices hit a record high after the government raised them by as much as 5 percent. The drivers are also angered at new fees introduced by warehouse operators.

One man claimed the police have responded with violence---beating up many truckers. One of his friends was beaten and another arrested, he says. The man claims that some 20,000 truckers have gone on strike. It's a number that is hard to confirm. The likelier number of about 2,000 protesters is still a major event in China.

China’s state-controlled newspapers ignored the strike, and censors removed reports on the disturbance from Web sites. News of recent strikes in Shanghai leaked out through the Chinese equivalents of Twitter, known as Weibo and used by many urban Chinese. Word about the strikes initially appeared there, before being deleted by the authorities.

The strike eventually ended after government of Shanghai cut some fees. In 2008, China was hit with a wave of strikes by taxi and bus drivers unhappy with the erosion in their take-home pay. Also in April 2011, in what appeared to be a government bid to assuage some of the current economic unhappiness, Shanghai newspapers reported that the government would reduce the monthly fees that independent taxi drivers must pay the companies that employ them, to $1,260 from $1,305.

Image Sources: 1) University of Washington; 2, 9, 10) Beifan.com http://www.beifan.com/; 3, 5 ) Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; 4) Mongabey ; 6) CIA; 7) Gary Braasch; 8) Julie Chao http://juliechao.com/pix-china.html ; Wiki Commons; Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man artist, Global Times Chinese: photo.huanqiu.com http://photo.huanqiu.com/creativity/unlimited/2010-11/1254288.html

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2012

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