Blame for the massive riot in Huizhou this week should be pinned on brutal government security guards and not motorcycle-taxi drivers, legal experts said yesterday.
Cai Lihui, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University's School of Government in Guangzhou, said the confrontation was just the latest in a series of violent clashes and riots fomented by discontent over harsh treatment by the local authorities.
The riot was triggered after a motorcycle-taxi driver was allegedly beaten to death by security guards working for village authorities. But anger has been building among drivers for some time.
Many of these motorcycle drivers are from other provinces and often operate illegally. Guangdong authorities have blamed them for all sorts of social evils. Motorcycle taxis have been banned in major cities in the province, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan. Many who continue to operate in rural areas became the targets of extortion by security guards.
Professor Cai said the latest riot would prompt local authorities to rethink and revise the ban on motorcycles because it was poorly thought out and lacked strong public support.
He said most of the rioters in the Huizhou protest made a living by offering motorcycle-taxi services illegally, and anger among the drivers had been rising since 2006, when the ban came into effect.
Motorcycles were forced off the road to make way for cars and buses.
The ban's supporters believed it would help cut the accident rate, curb robberies and improve the environment. Thefts of handbags and mobile phones by passing motorcycle riders were common in cities such as Guangzhou.
Professor Cai said the governments saw the ban as the only solution to traffic congestion, environmental pollution and security problems. But they did not consider the many people who had no other means of transport.
'In fact, the ban is not as effective and as fair as the authorities thought,' he said. 'And the Huizhou riot is proof.'
Professor Cai pointed out that motorcycle-taxi services were still in great demand in the Pearl River Delta.
He said motorbikes were a necessary form of transport in southern cities such as Huizhou and Dongguan, which had huge immigrant populations and lacked satisfactory public transport.
'Many uneducated, unskilled mainland men made a living by using motorcycles to ferry passengers and goods, while others, who couldn't afford taxis, also needed motorcycles,' he said.
'The ban can't stop these people's demand and the ban also can't make the city an international and high-class city.'
Liu Kaiming, director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation in Shenzhen, also called for authorities to lift the bans.
'Banning all the motorcycles will only push these unskilled migrant men to the criminal fringe,' he said. 'The best way is to make the motorcycle-taxi drivers register and wear uniforms.
'If passengers and drivers had good choices, there would be no riots or social anger.'