Starting this month, Tianjin’s taxi companies have begun to upgrade their taxi fleets in advance of the Olympics. The new taxis, like the one shown above, are all new cars painted in a teal and silver two-tone color scheme that recalls the design of Beijing taxis. A bridge logo on the side of the taxis is based on Liberation Bridge, an old Tianjin landmark. Like Beijing’s recent upgrade to a mostly-Hyundai taxi fleet, the new taxis are intended to enhance Tianjin’s image. Most of the new cabs will be Toyotas or Velas (a make of Tianjin’s First Autoworks), but presumably other large taxis like Hyundais and Volkswagens will stay on the road. However, most taxi drivers are still in old Xialis (a compact sedan based on a Toyota design), and will need financing help from their companies to obtain a new car.
I’ve been in Tianjin for four years and this is the third time Tianjin taxis have been upgraded. The first round of upgrading involved decommissioning hundreds of Huali minivan taxis, banana-yellow deathtraps that were good for carrying bicycles or moving house but not much else. The second round of upgrades involved switching the old analog meter and manual invoice system to automated digital meters with ticket printouts ala Beijing and Shanghai. After the third round of upgrades is finished this year, Tianjin will have a lot of bright shiny taxis on the road, but one aspect of the taxi service will still need improving — taxi drivers.
Tianjin has some affable and reliable drivers to be sure, but there are still too many cheats and lowlife drivers on the road. For instance, after the new meters were installed, some drivers began to place black electricians’ tape over the minute and kilometer counters so that victims, er, passengers cannot predict fares or know when they are being cheated. Also, as is the case in many large cities in China, taxi teams parked at major locations like shopping centers, the airport, and the train stations will cheat their passengers by taking longer routes, demanding money up front, or simply refusing to take people. Finally, unlike their Beijing counterparts, almost no Tianjin taxi drivers can speak English. This is not a problem for me but for the lazy expat or tourist, getting around can be a chore.