China Transportation Zhuhai

China’s illegal taxis – 黑车, 珠海

Illegal taxis (黑车, literally “black car”), mostly known as “black cabs” or “black taxis“, are very common in any Chinese city despite successive crackdowns on their business sponsored by the central Government.

Usually, there are two types of black cabs: those who disguise the car like an official cab (just a few dare to do so), and those who have a normal car and just pick up customers on the road. For this last type, we can make another sub-division: the full-time engaged in this business, and those who just take customers on their way to work or other places. Basically, just catching the opportunity.

Regarding the ‘professional’ ones, they have clean cars, sometimes even brand new as they are devoted to this activity, with air fresheners, decorative rugs, Chinese embroidery, and constantly receiving calls from customers, which makes them a little too distracted for my taste…

Why get one?

Well, basically for the convenience. Despite the taxi service in Zhuhai has more than 1000 units going around at any time of the day, there are areas where they’ll never go because they assume there it will be no customers. Also, the main reason to get a black cab in China is that the taxi service (the official) has a driver shift two times per day, so during half an hour around 6pm and another at 6am it is impossible to find any, and if you have to go anywhere during those moments, either you take the bus or an unlicensed cab.

In cities like Beijing or Shanghai, illegal taxis have become a problem of safety for those who hail them, but in relatively ‘new’ cities like Zhuhai, where tourism or foreigners aren’t too abundant, black cabs are really safe.

Anyway, getting into a black cab should not suppose a problem of safety as long as you are confident enough to do so. Remember there are ‘professional’ illegal taxis living off of it, so they want to provide a good service so you’ll call them again. Regarding the ‘opportunist’ type, I would recommend you to stay away from them except for an emergency, not for safety things, but because they are hard to haggle with: they know there are no other taxis and they will try to take advantage from it.

Hailing a cab in China

Just stand next to the road, with the arm extended, as in anywhere else. Unlicensed cabs are aware of the shifts in the official service, and they usually are patrolling the streets already during that time, and being a foreigner makes you more eye-catchy for them, so even if you are not waiting for a cab but just trying to get to the other side of the street, they will honk and wave at you. Sometimes it is easy to get one but sometimes you have to be more ‘proactive’… like this:

Credits to getsecondlunch, a webcomic you should follow

Never agree to any service unless you know the exact price, so the first thing to do after you got their attention, is to bargain and agree to a price! The maneuvering space you have depends, as said before, on the time of the day and the area where you are. The drivers are smart and know how desperate can you be in a certain place or time. Bargaining itself is pretty sharp and goes by the following formula {name of the place + duōshǎo qián?}. By the way, you bargain from outside the car, never after you hop in. When the price is fixed, you shake hands and then you get in the car.

The fares

About the fares, during the drivers’ shift or if you are in a remote place, you know you’re screwed because the price can double from the official easy; maybe you can scratch 5 or 10 kuài down from the first offer, but nothing else. The good moment comes when they see an official cab approaching (usually they honk and taunt the illegals) or another black cab so you can have a price fight in front of you. Or a real fight with knives and fists, depending on how they feel about competence and free market…

Official cabs have a specific car model and color for each city (green and yellow in Zhuhai), special license plates, and more important: a taximeter. The fares, when I was there, were something like 10¥ as a minimum fare (13¥ from 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.) and 3¥ charge for each extra kilometer.

There’s no bargaining with these… with exceptions (like everything else in China ;)), like if it’s really late at night, or you have to go to a distant location (even to another city). Just use the formula again, and if they shake the head, you know there’s no bargaining available.

Taxi lane at Gongbei Underground Market

I really recommend getting the seat next to the driver, riding shotgun, for a simple reason: they drive recklessly (not only the taxi drivers, but the rest of the drivers in the city as well), and you really want to have the seat belt on, because there’s none in the back seats.

Be aware that in Zhuhai, there’s one kind of taxi that goes only to the airport and it’s completely yellow. Do not hail them unless you want to go there because their fare is calculated from the airport. But if you have to come to Zhuhai, better do the route Hong Kong – Zhuhai by ferry, way cheaper and less time-consuming than landing on Zhuhai’s airport, which is like an hour away from the city.

About my personal experience, I always try to use the legal ones. At least in Zhuhai, there are smart and numerous enough to be where people are, even if it is at 5am at Bar Street, so the only moments you might really need to get a black taxi are in a distant District or during that precise moment of the driver’s shift, but if you have the phone of a trusted transporter, better give him a call first to see if he’s nearby.


  1. hehe, in case you go down to Perú, it works the same way! And I guess that in most parts of South America it is quite similar….


  2. For a moment, I was actually homesick for Zhuhai taxis…. Until you reminded me of the taxi shift change period, which I desperately hated. Why is the shift change at exactly the same time that most people actually want a taxi? Sigh.


    1. I do agree! hahaha That was the clock out time for most of us there…! But well, I think it’s one of those things that are “as it” in the Chinese culture, and so that, nobody tries to change..! 😉


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