Motorcycle ban to leave thousands unemployed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2006, 12:00am

Guangzhou makes desperate bid to clean up city's clogged streets

Zhong Zhensheng is 50, a decade past the age when an uneducated, unskilled mainland man can still find a job. But as a Guangzhou motorcycle cabbie, he has been able to eke out a living and even put his daughter through college.

But on January 1, a ban on motorbikes designed to make the city's downtown area safer and cleaner and its roads less congested, will come into effect.

Now, even putting food on the table for his family seems out of his reach. He is among about 100,000 motorcycle taxi drivers who will lose their jobs on New Year's Day.

Experts say the policy shows Guangzhou cannot deal with traffic congestion, environmental pollution and security problems, and sees the ban as the only solution.

More than 1 million Guangzhou motorcycles will make way for cars and buses.

The motorbike cabbies, mostly retrenched workers or people too old to find a regular job, complain that the policy will ruin them.

'I have a daughter in the third year of college and her future depends on the 2,000 to 3,000 yuan I earn each month,' Mr Zhong said.

Fellow motorbike cabbie Pan Weiming complained the government ignored their rights.

'They do not want to hear what we poor guys have to say,' he said. 'They spread propaganda that motorcycle taxis are the main cause of robberies and air pollution. This is rubbish. The real reason [for the ban] is that the government wants to present a false picture that Guangzhou is an 'international metropolis' and we are the victims.

'They could have managed us by charging a business tax just like other taxis. Why didn't they do that?'

The Guangzhou government said there were more than 500,000 motorcycles still on the city roads, but local media put the figure at more than 1 million. Mr Pan estimates that at least a third of the 500,000 vehicles are taxis.

Some transport analysts doubt the ban will lower the city's crime rate and say the regulation points to a failure of ideas.

Zheng Jing , director of the Guangzhou Urban Planning and Design Survey Research Institute Zeta-Paradigm Studio, said the bar showed the government was short of ideas on how to solve the problems, and had decided on the ban because it was the easiest solution to administer.

He added: 'Motorcycles have been the perfect form of transport in southern cities. They are not too expensive for the average resident and they can be used all year long,' he said.

Analysts also said that even though motorbikes made Guangzhou's traffic worse and were a crime risk, they had relieved the government in the past of having to provide transport for thousands of people.

'I can't confirm that 100,000 [cabbies will be out of business] but, for sure, tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs by losing the instrument of their livelihoods,' Mr Zheng said.

Guangdong People's Political Consultative Conference representative Wang Zechu said the government should make the needs of low-income groups a priority.

'It is not a bad idea to reduce pollution and upgrade the city's image, but we also need to know what the people really want,' he said.

Taxi drivers said the ban might lift their customer volume by 10 per cent, putting up to 60 yuan more per day in their pockets, but it would not help untangle gridlock.

'Dongfeng Road has banned motorcycles for almost a year, but the traffic jams in that area are getting worse and worse,' taxi driver Lei Shufang said.

Mr Zhong said that if he could not find a job he planned to buy a second-hand van or a mini truck to keep his taxi business on the road, a purchase that would use up all his life savings.

'But my first choice is to move to Zengcheng, Panyu or Huadu with most of our friends because we can still continue our business in the rural districts until they ban us.'