At 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Hu Dawu dropped off his last client of the day at Hongqiao Station. The rest of the night being free, he went to the address of the next client who had booked the taxi for the next morning and was going to take the first train leaving Shanghai.
“I’ll find a charging station first, then I’ll sleep,” Hu, a driver with Dazhong Taxi Company, told Sixth Tone on Tuesday.
Hu has been sleeping in his car for a month. He is one of several hundred taxi drivers allowed to take fares during Shanghai’s ongoing lockdown. The 50-year-old used a pseudonym as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
As Shanghai gradually reopens, thousands of people have been granted permission to leave the city by neighborhood committees and universities. More than 6,000 people left Hongqiao Station on Monday.
But getting to the station is no small feat. All public transport is suspended until May 22. Private drivers charge thousands of yuan (1,000 yuan is about $148) for a ride. Some passengers simply took rental bikes or left on foot.
Only a small number are lucky enough to get an appointment with a regular taxi with a metered fare.
There are now about 70 Dazhong taxis ferrying people to train stations and airports, according to Hu. Meanwhile, around 50 taxis operated by another company, Qiangsheng, have been transporting people going to hospitals and returning from quarantine centers since April 18.
Hu described walking through the empty city for the past month. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Passengers arrive at Shanghai Hongqiao station on May 17, 2022. VCG
I started driving on April 15. The company assigned me to pick up people from Hongqiao Station, such as medical staff, volunteers, and people who came to build quarantine camps, and take them to designated places in the city.
I also accompany people stuck in the station. Many of them have been deceived by labor agents. They ask me to drive them somewhere “outside”, because there was no food or water inside Hongqiao Station. But I can only agree to take them if they have a negative nucleic acid report within the last 48 hours.
Also, we are only allowed to pick up passengers at the pick-up point at the train station. Sometimes, when I’m waiting at a red light, stranded people come and ask me if I can take them to a place where the supermarkets are open. All I can do is give them instant noodles from my car.
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Even though I follow a very strict protection routine and disinfect the car after each trip, I am still very worried about getting infected. My wife also worried about me.
The company arranged accommodation. But it was in a hallway of their office. Everyone sleeps together. I spent one night there and decided to leave – it seemed easy to get infected there. I took a quilt with me and slept in the car.
Sometimes I take a “shower” inside the station. I take hot water and wipe my body with a towel.
Since May 5, Dazhong has been accepting reservations from the public.
I picked up nearly 20 people today, most of whom are students returning home. It hurts to see these students trapped on campuses and deprived of their homes for so long. My son, a graduate student who came to Shanghai for an internship, is also locked in a rented room in the Pudong district. I was only able to bring him food once.
Many passengers said that seeing me arrive was like seeing a “savior”. A girl kept asking me to promise that I would show up when making the appointment. As soon as she saw my car the next day, she flew out the neighborhood gate like a little swallow, leaving her suitcase behind, jumping and dancing in the middle of the road.
My passengers shared my phone number with other people. If I don’t turn off my phone at night, I can’t sleep. One morning I found 65 missed calls. But the company prohibits us from accepting private jobs – the only way to make an appointment is to call 96822. The company must register the information of anyone leaving Shanghai: nucleic acid test results, tickets train and letter of consent from the neighborhood committee. .
I took three students from Tongji University this morning, and they left me a lot of snacks as a thank you. Some parents have also called me from out of town to thank me because their children told them about me on their way home. There are more thank you notes on WeChat. A girl left me a message: Thanks to you, we have hope.
These are the best days of my career. I have never received such respect.
I have been driving a taxi for 10 years. Before, I worked in a public company in my hometown, Anhui, for 21 years. I switched to driving to alleviate a heavy financial burden that my family was facing. In 2012 taxi business was good and there was no online car call. At that time, I could earn 800 yuan in 10 hours. Now I work 16 hours a day but only earn about 600 yuan. Not much left after I donated half of it to the company.
Taxi drivers have made a great contribution to the city during the lockdown period. After the reopening, I hope the government can limit online car calls and prohibit companies backed by big capital from lowering prices to control the market.
Taxis are supposed to be a city’s “visiting card”, so we have high standards. In addition to a driving license for more than three years, it requires three months of training and study for the service test. Now, this calling card of the city is impacted by online calls. You can’t make money, you’re in a bad mood. And if you’re in a bad mood, once the passengers complain, you’re going to have arguments.
I used to play CDs while driving. I listened to Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung. Now I’m driving a new car and I don’t know how to put music in it. People my age are not good with digital devices. The only entertainment for me now is trying to strike up a conversation with the passengers. I’m not cultured, but I know how to start a conversation with people from different backgrounds.
During confinement, all the passengers keep thanking me as soon as they get in the car. I have never talked so much in one day.
Scams and exorbitant prices
Why are passengers so grateful to me? Unlike unlicensed taxis, we charge passengers based on the meter. Many Fudan and Tongji University students spend over a thousand to get to Hongqiao Station. Since there are not enough taxis, some people have to pay so much to leave.
Yesterday, I ran into two students waiting for a driver at the entrance to Tongji University. They told me that they paid 4,000 yuan for a carpool.
If they took a licensed taxi, they would only have to pay Hongqiao 130 yuan.
I told them to keep the record of the transaction, write down the license plate number, then file a report with 12345 or the police. Besides overloading, some of these drivers even use fake green passes. They should be heavily fined.
Some people have even been scammed by fake drivers. An old lady taking a flight at Pudong Airport told me that she had transferred 1,500 yuan to someone who claimed to be a driver, and then they blocked her.
The old lady arrived in the United States yesterday. She sent me her WeChat chat and transaction records with the scammer, and asked me to help her file a report at the police station, hoping to get her payment back.
I have communicated with so many passengers recently, and added so many passengers on WeChat. I kinda lose track of who is who. But I will do my best to help him after this busy time.
Publisher: David Cohen.
(Icons: appleuzr/Getty Creative/VCG)
(Header image: A taxi driver waits for passengers outside a residential area in Shanghai, May 14, 2022. VCG)