A fake taxi’s tragic crash in Changping District last month left one passenger dead, one injured and the driver at large. The incident has brought renewed scrutiny to Beijing’s fleet of illegal cabs.
Liang Jianwei, a spokesperson for Beijing Traffic Law Enforcement Corp, said the city is tightening up on illegal taxis, a phenomenon driven largely by Beijing’s shortage of licensed cabs.
Many illegal cabs have been caught using counterfeit money, charging ridiculous prices and even robbing or assaulting their passengers. Fake taxis usually appear exactly the same as regular cars but raise their rates once a passenger agrees to board.
Liang said most illegal taxis are active from 8 pm to 3 am. They are most active in the suburbs, but have started moving downtown during rush hour.
Many also choose to drive travelers fresh off the plane at the airport. Some demand the passengers get out of the car without offering a reason, then drive off with their luggage. Others wait by the airport bus station and charge travelers hundreds of yuan for a short ride.
Because their plate numbers are all fake, most of fake taxi drivers flee the scene when they end up in an accident.
When caught, the department’s only legal tool for punishment is the “Methods of Seizing Operations Without License,” which will impound the driver’s car and charge 20,000 yuan to release it.
Because the fine is more expensive than the actual vehicle, drivers usually ignore the notice and buy a new secondhand taxi to continue their illegal operation.
Traditionally, the main source of imposter taxi is a black market operating within the used car market. But in the last two years, most of these illegal cars have come from Internet trading.
Unwanted attention from law enforcement has pushed imposter taxi drivers to make their vehicles appear even more realistic.
Liu Changheng, captain of Beijing Traffic Law Enforcement Corp, said people can find leads on buying salvaged taxis by searching for certain keywords and calling the associated phone numbers. In addition to vehicles, sellers also offer taxi lights, meters and receipt printers. The total price for an illegal cab rarely exceeds 20,000 yuan.
Many of the parts are traded online, making the business more difficult for police to infiltrate.
A decreased in the number of illegal taxis seized in the last year may indicate that the market is contracting.
Spokesperson Liang said the number of illegal taxi increased rapidly at first with more than 1,200 cars seized in 2013 and 1,145 seized in 2014, but it decreased to 574 seized in 2015.
The department is analyzing other explanations for the decrease. Liang said ride booking apps such as Dididache provide a legal platform for drivers who desire extra income but who do not want to drive a real taxi.
Although there are no clear statistics to support this theory, the decrease in seized taxis began around the same time such apps became popular.
While there may be fewer illegal taxis in operation, police advised the public to be cautious when taking a taxi in suburbs or at night.