Beware of cab con

By Yan Shuang Source:Global Times Published: 2012-6-4 0:45:03

A man walks past a retired cab, which has been repainted green, near a used car market in southern Beijing on May 25. Photo: CFP

While the government's lackluster effort to crack down on Beijing's black cabs - private cars that offer lifts for a price - appears to have dissipated, another, more devious transportation trickster has caught the attention of officials.

Beijing cabs that are required by law to be retired from service are being put back on the road after a quick retrofit that makes them look like authentic taxis. These clone cabs not only escape safety inspections, monitoring and other regulations, the drivers are specialists at cheating passengers.

A barrage of media reports exposing clone taxi scams have been worrying the capital's transportation authorities and concerned residents. Government crackdowns have been ineffectual as the illegal taxi trade requires little investment to produce big profits.

A retired, repainted Beijing taxi - they must be taken out of service after eight years or 500,000 kilometers - can be bought for as little as 5,000 yuan ($785).

While there is nothing illegal about selling the former cabs as private cars, some sellers are more than willing to sweeten the deal.  For a few more thousand yuan they'll provide a taxi roof light, a meter and taxi decals for the doors.

Once the retired cabs are back on the road, unscrupulous drivers have devised numerous ways to scam their passengers. 

The taxi meter is often rigged to charge much more than the going rate, and a number of reports say drivers are masters at passing counterfeit money.  Once the passenger realizes the change and the receipt they've been given are fake, the taxi is long gone.

Police and transportation officials say even when they corner a bogus clone cab, the driver will often just abandon it and head to the used car market for another. 

It took no time at all for a Global Times reporter to find several taxi sellers operating in alleys around the huge second-hand car market in Fengtai district.

"Fifty Elantra cars arrived today, just 13,000 yuan each, and 16,000 yuan for those retiring next year," said a woman dealer in her 40s. The old taxis were purchased from a Beijing taxi company, and repainted, she said. The meter, license plates and roof light had been removed.

"I can tell you where to buy a complete set of taxi equipment if you want to drive it in Beijing," she said, quickly losing interest, upon hearing the reporter was just looking.

A complete set of equipment and documents needed for a clone taxi, including a fake plate, a roof light, a meter and drivers' papers are for sale online for 3,000 yuan.

"Pick any numbers for the car plate you want, and I can have the equipment ready in two days," said a man surnamed Liu in his ad posted on

On May 22, more than 6,000 retired taxis for sale were found lined up outside the Huaxiang Bridge Used Automobile Market in Fengtai, near Beijing's South Fourth Ring Road, the Beijing News reported. Many Elantra or Jetta cars were repainted dark red or green to cover their original taxi colors, but many telltale signs of their former duty as cabs were obvious.

Dealers were selling these cars for 15,000 yuan and were ready to help repackage them into bogus taxis for just 1,400 yuan, the newspaper reported.

The old, unreliable and uninsured clone cabs have also been implicated in more serious crimes.

A Beijing resident was beaten and robbed of 2,000 yuan and an iPhone by a driver of an illegal taxi on May 20. Police later found the taxi was a clone with a motorcycle license plate.

Passengers are not the only victims of clone taxis, as the equipment that's reinstalled in them is often ripped off from real taxi drivers.

"Someone broke my taxi window, took the meter and removed the plate a month ago." said Sun Changsheng, a Beijing taxi driver.

"Clone taxis won't be busted unless the real drivers find the copycats themselves, or when fake cabs breach traffic rules and real drivers are notified by police they've been fined," he said.

On May 29 police found 185 motor vehicles parked outside the Fengtai car market without proper license plates, and arrested more than 30 illegal car dealers, the Beijing Daily reported.

However, a chengguan (city management) officer patrolling outside the market told the Global Times Thursday illegal taxi sellers seemed to have disappeared, even though the Global Times found several taxi dealers in alleys some 1,000 meters away from the market.

Retired taxis found to be still on the road without official registration can be seized by authorities, according to regulations established by authorities in 1997.

Instead of scrapping retired taxis many Beijing taxi companies sell their old cabs to resellers who buy them in bulk and sell them to locales outside Beijing, or retrofit them for illegal service as clone taxis in Beijing.

"Drivers of clone taxis can make 10,000 to 20,000 yuan a month and they don't have to pay anything to a taxi company like we do," said Beijing taxi driver Wang Jun, whose taxi plate was recently stolen.

"Since their cabs are cheap to buy they can simply run away if they are caught by the police," Wang said. 

According to the Beijing News, retired or retrofitted taxis busted in the Fengtai illegal cab crackdown will be destroyed and people found fabricating car plates and driver's licenses will be detained.

With the number of clone taxis seemingly increasing year after year, experts are calling for tighter management of the used car market. More than half of the 139 cases related to forged licences or documents heard by the Fengtai district court from 2009 to 2011 involved taxis and the number is climbing, Legal Daily reported on January 12.

The maximum penalty for dealing in fake taxi documents is one year in prison, the Legal Daily quoted a judge as saying.


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