Taxi drivers earning a living in Beijing have never had it easy. In addition to standard concerns for drivers the world over like taxi insurance and fuel costs they also have to contend with horrifying amounts of traffic and suffocating pollution.
But this month working behind the wheel in China’s second largest city will become even tougher.
The 18th Party Congress is about to get underway in Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party’s boldest and most high-stakes gathering in ten years, naming the leaders who will run the world’s most populous country for the next decade.
This year has seen many riots taking place across China, with inequality rising and demand for change growing so rarely have party officials been so anxious as ahead of the start of Thursday’s week-long event.
As a means of guarding against protest Beijing is tightening it’s security, as it often does during high-profile events, but many of Beijing’s latest rules seem extraordinary, with taxi drivers in the front line of this huge, sometimes outlandish security crackdown.
With stricter controls on everything from model planes to pigeons, cab drivers have been told to avoid sensitive parts of the city and not to open their windows or doors if they pass the more “important venues”. It doesn’t just stop there though. Cabbies have been ordered to remove the handles of their car windows in case passengers wind them down to throw out hostile leaflets or ping-pong balls with slogans critical of the party. These rules apply to all taxi companies in the city.
One destination particularly sensitive for Beijing’s cabbies is Tiananmen Square, the site of a number of political events and student protests over the years including the student massacre in 1989. Passengers wanting to go near the square will have to sign a “travelling agreement” promising they will not cause any disruption.
“I’ve been driving 10 years and have never had a problem,” said one driver when asked about the new rules. In any case, “anyone who is thinking of causing trouble is already being watched,” he said. Another said: “No one will want to open the windows then anyway—it’s too cold.” And he plans to avoid possible trouble by not driving inside the second ring road of Beijing during the congress, steering clear of the heart of the city where both Tiananmen Square and the Zhongnanhai leadership residence compounds are located.