Unable to Pay Drivers, Bus Company in China’s Dancheng Halts Service

Unable to Pay Drivers, Bus Company in China’s Dancheng Halts Service
Commuters on a bus in Shenzhen in southern China’s Guangdong Province on May 22, 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicole Hao

The county of Dancheng in China's central Henan province stopped its bus service on Aug. 12 after its drivers went without pay for several months.

Local authorities forced privately-owned Dancheng Public Transportation Company to resume operations on Aug. 13 but the company complained about a lack of financial support.

“All buses we have are green-energy vehicles. The batteries are degraded. The weather is hot and the buses use more electricity,” a manager from the company told state-run Yicai on Aug. 12. “We had received the green-energy vehicles subsidies before 2019 but haven’t received anything since then.”

The manager talked about a lack of passengers but did not mention if the COVID-19 pandemic or related lockdowns contributed to the suspension of its service.

But the local authorities blamed the company's decisions for its economic difficulties.

“[The company] increased the price from 1 yuan ($0.15) to 2 yuan ($0.3) per trip, and changed the schedule from running a bus every 15 minutes to 20 or even 30 minutes,” a county official told Yicai on Aug. 13. “Its business strategy directly caused the financial failure.”

The official said the $0.3 price is too high for people in Dancheng.

But the bus company had a different opinion.

One of its managers told state-run Dahe in July: “The county regime should give us a subsidy. Without a subsidy, we had to increase the price to cover the cost.”
Taiwan government-controlled news outlet CNA reported  Aug. 13 that China’s deteriorating economy is the key behind the suspended bus service and gave several examples of other incidents.
The bad financial status of local authorities is causing difficulties in many Chinese cities, including public hospitals that hadn’t paid doctors’ salaries for five months in northeastern Liaoning Province, the CNA report said. In eastern Zhejiang Province and Shanghai, some officials have seen their salaries being cut by cut 20 percent to 30 percent, the report added.

Suspended Buses

Dancheng has a population of 1.37 million and covers some 575 square miles in area. Buses are the only form of public transportation and the bus suspension hurt those needing the service on Aug. 12.
Dancheng has six bus lines. The company shut down line 3 and line 6 earlier on July 20 with the excuse: “The driver’s salary is 3,600 yuan per month ($530), which is relatively low for a commercial passenger bus driver. Many drivers resigned.”

Local media Dahe reported that the company has over 100 buses, but had only 50 drivers on the books in July.

“The company severely lacks drivers,” Dahe wrote.

Dancheng Public Transportation company was founded in 2016 and uses so-called green energy buses, by which it could receive the subsidy.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in January 2020, the company has suspended its operations several times due to lockdowns that the regime used to curb outbreaks and then worsening financial conditions.

Unsolved Problem

On Aug. 13, the company resumed the operation of line 1, 2, and 5, as requested by county authorities but said it might have to suspend its operations at any time in the future.
“Dancheng authorities haven't given us the subsidy, and we haven’t found a solution to find money to pay drivers that we should pay months ago,” a manager from the company told Yicai on Aug. 13. “It’s uncertain whether can keep the buses running.”

The manager said the company's revenue wasn’t enough to buy the electricity to charge the bus, let alone to pay salaries.

Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.