Taxi trouble at the Beijing Olympics

Every major event will have some logistical problems, but Aussie businessses are there helping out. TIM HARCOURT

By Tim Harcourt, the Airport Economist, reports from Beijing

Imagine this. It’s a steamy, smoggy, hot August night and there are thousands of people – both locals and foreigners – stranded on the Beijing city streets. The famous Beijing ring roads are chock-a-block with pedestrians, grumpy to get home after a late night at the Olympics. Many desperately hailing cabs, but many are trying the subway or making the long march home on foot.


The Airport Economist is in Beijing (naturally enough as there’s a major sporting event on) and is trying his luck too. But he is fortunately assisted by a friend, a fluent Mandarin speaking Australian (no not Kevin Rudd) who knows his way around Beijing and he gets safely home to his hotel in the back of a sheep-skin seated van (all it needed was the purple fluffy dice on the mirror).


So this begs the question – why can’t the Airport Economist get a taxi in Beijing?


There are several reasons but there are three main ones.


First, in order to keep emissions and traffic under control for the Olympics, the Chinese authorities have restricted traffic by private vehicles. They have split up the calendar so some cars can be driven on odd numbered days according to their licence plate number and the residual get the even numbered days. This means that the Beijing middle class who normally drive, don’t bring their cars in (they can’t) creating extra demand for taxis on top of demand from foreign visitors who are here for the Olympics.


Second, taxis are relatively cheap – especially for a foreigner (you can go anywhere in central Beijing for about 10 reminbi or $A1.65) – and even for some well-heeled Beijingers. So naturally, taxis are popular and this too creates excess demand.


Third, if we take a walk on the supply side, many taxis have been reserved for Olympic venues. Accordingly, people elsewhere in the city are losing out on the taxis which are now at the specially built venues.


So next time you have to wait 20 minutes for a taxi on a drunken Friday night in Sydney or any other Australian capital city, just imagine how it feels hanging around for two hours or more in Beijing during the Olympics.


However, it could be a lot worse. To help with the traffic flows, China has enlisted the help of a number of Australian companies to help with traffic-flow, carbon emissions, and logistics for getting around.


For example SmartTrans is helping with GPS tracking technology, GHD is helping with Olympic transport system design and Linfox is there as a logistics consultant. Indeed there seems to be Australian involvement all over Beijing from the Water cube stadium and the Olympic Village (designed by PTW), the lighting in the Olympic venues and hotels (installed by Dynalite) and the smoke-alarm systems (by Xtralis).

Even the torch is made of materials from Bluescope and the medals are made from ores from BHP Billiton. There are many individual Australians also playing a big role at the Games themselves.


For example, Michelle Timms is a coach with the China women’s basketball teams, SOCOG guru Sandy Hollway is help BOCOG and the IOC and David Churches, senior adviser with the Australian International Sports Events Secretariat is also heavily involved in preparation and logistics here.


So if “Timmsy” can help the Chinese basketballers, Sandy Hollway can help BOCOG, then it makes sense for Lindsay Fox to help the Beijing logistics people.

But don’t get me wrong – it’s all worth it. The opening ceremony was spectacular and there’s tremendous excitement all over China. A bit of taxi trouble is a small price to pay for the staging of a potentially wonderful Olympics, so let’s hope that the Australian expertise will enable Beijing to put on the “best games ever” (or at least since Sydney!).





Tim Harcourt is Chief Economist with the Australian Trade Commission and the author of The Airport Economist (see Thank you to Sara Carden, Mark Foy, Ric Deverell, Dan Andrews and Robert Arculus for their assistance with this article.

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