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Monday, January 25, 1999 Published at 11:14 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

China scraps the 'people's cab'

Miandis pollute Beijing's skies with a sixth of its poisonous air

By Carrie Gracie in Beijing

The Chinese capital Beijing is bidding farewell to the 1990s several months earlier than the rest of the world.

It's axeing its trademark fleet of minibus taxis in preparation for a cleaner, smarter millenium.

The miandis, as these taxis are known, have very rudimentary engines, and their exhaust fumes are responsible for much of Beijing's air pollution.

With the city authorities under pressure from their own public, and determined to present a blue skies image before their next Olympic bid, a decree has been issued that all 22,000 miandis have to go.

But, the campaign is not meeting with universal approval.

Poisoning the air

[ image: For many taxi drivers, this means financial ruin]
For many taxi drivers, this means financial ruin
Not so long ago, Beijing was one of the world's clean air capitals ­ a city of bicycles and buses. Not any more.

The roads clog with traffic as fast as they're built, and the air is thick with exhaust fumes. According to the government, miandis account for a sixth of all the poison.

He Kai, a 42-year old trumpet player and part-time miandi driver, explained how you can fit a big table or a king size bath into his vehicle. He is driving with six members of his orchestra and a double bass in the back.

The miandi is tiny and cheap to run, and its high box like design and big sliding doors have made it a favourite not just for carrying people but for bringing home the consumer durables as well.

The miandi is the symbol of 1990s Beijing, the taxi of the people in an era when ordinary people could afford a taxi ride for the first time ever.

Under the crusher

[ image: Graveyard diggers: No mercy for the miandi]
Graveyard diggers: No mercy for the miandi
In the miandi graveyard, a wrecking ball crushes the miandi which buckles under its weight. The mangled remains are lifted on a giant magnet, tossed onto the back of a truck and carted off to the smelter at the capital iron and steel works.

Everyone acknowledges the pollution problem but He Kai is bitter about the lack of consideration for people like himself.

It's taken him five years to pay off the cost of his miandi and just as he's about to go into profit, he's told his investment is to go under the crusher.

He said: "We should get some compensation. I'm in a really bad way financially and there's no point pretending otherwise. My miandi is still usable. China's always having this or that natural disaster. Cars are needed.

"So even if the miandis are not fit for Beijing any more, they could be used elsewhere. It's a waste just to scrap them. I don't think other countries would throw away a car for the common people like that."

But if the planners have their way, it will be the end of the road for the people's cab.

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