Illegal cabs busted in clever 10-minute sting

Did you notice all taxis in the city were booked out for 10 minutes Thursday? It was an inspection to ferret out illegal cabs hidden among the city's 50,000 taxis.

You weren't imagining things if you noticed that every taxi in sight was temporarily "booked out" at around 10pm on December 28, but it wasn't all as it appeared — it was part of a plan to ferret out illegal cabs.

Roof beacons on top of Shanghai's 50,000 taxis can show three different statuses. The first two are common: one is a green light with "vacant" shown, and the other is a red light with "offline". 

The third status is also red, but the words "diandao" (booked out) are shown.

According to the law enforcement department, the first statuses can be switched on by the drivers by turning on or off their taximeters, but the “booked out” status can only be remotely turned on by the taxi firms.

On the night of December 28, the Shanghai transportation commission's law enforcement department launched a sting to bust illegal cabs hidden amongst the 50,000 taxis across the city.

All legitimate taxis had their statuses switched to "diandiao" for ten minutes from 10pm.

Officers set up checkpoints in 28 busy areas such as the two airports and shopping malls around the city. After 10pm, all taxis with beacons not showing “diandiao” were stopped for questioning.

“The fake taxis had nowhere to hide as they cannot switch their beacon to that status,” said an officer with the department.

During the operation, some legitimate taxis were found with old beacons that cannot show the "diandiao" status, the officer explained. “We would then carefully screen whether the driver is innocent or not.”

Eight illegal cabs were busted, with one breaking through a checkpoint and fleeing. Police are now tracking it down. 

One illegal cab driver, surnamed Cheng, confessed after arrested that he found the scrapped car via the internet and bought it for 8,300 yuan ($US1,276), including a roof beacon, a taximeter and a fake taxi license.

Cheng lost all 12 credits of his driver’s license and was facing a 5-day detention.

Officers seized the illegal cab and found the handbrake of the car was completely broken, while the doors of the car could not be closed properly.

Such “beacon inspections” will be periodically launched in the future to ferret out more illegal cabs in Shanghai, the law enforcement department promised.

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