For years Hong Kong has acted as a trend-setter for Guangzhou. From food to clothing, Guangzhou citizens have taken their cues from Hong Kong on what is fashionable. Now this trend has crossed over into the realm of transport, and is manifest in the form of an all-purpose debit card that can be used to pay for getting around town. Guangzhou's Yangcheng cards, similar to Hong Kong's Octopus cards, were introduced in 2001. The plastic cards are a godsend to many commuters: They can be used for subway rides, buses, ferries and even meals at some McDonald's restaurants. Soon they will be used to pay for taxi cab rides. About 3,000 taxis in the city are already 'test driving' the new, computerised card-reading system. Yangcheng cards can be purchased at subway station ticket booths and designated banks around the city. The cards require a 30 yuan deposit and a minimum 50 yuan initial charging fee. Passengers will be able to pay for their cab rides by simply running their Yangcheng cards through the card-swipe machines. By the end of 2004, about 6,000 taxis are scheduled to be equipped to handle such payments. The new machines will reduce the passing of counterfeit bills, for which the city's cabbies are notorious. While the new system may make life more convenient for passengers, the card means an inconvenient lack of cash flow for drivers. Everyday procedures such as refuelling and making change require a ready source of cash. If passengers plan to use the cards to pay for taxi rides, then they will have to get out of the habit of putting a mere 50 yuan worth of credit on them. 'It's a good idea but there are some problems,' said Ma Zhu Ji, a taxi driver for the Bai Yun Taxi Company, one of the companies currently testing the new computer system. 'For one, the cost of an average taxi ride is about 20 or 30 yuan and most Yangcheng card holders only have 50 yuan on their card.' This means most people would have to recharge their card after almost every taxi ride - hardly a convenience. Some rides will always be paid for in cash, such as the after-midnight trips when passengers and drivers bargain over the price, said Mr Ma. Taxi companies have yet to determine whether drivers will have to pay for installing the new system in each cab. This is a cost most drivers are unwilling to pick up. In Guangzhou, the average cabbie earns about 2,000 yuan per month, according to local media reports. The city's taxi services have come a long way in recent years, with a unified rate system and colour-coding to mark cleaner cabs with better service. Using Yangcheng cards to pay for taxi rides will be another step forward. But such improvements mean growing pains for drivers and passengers alike. Both parties should be prepared to adjust, to make Guangzhou a more user-friendly city.