Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Bus Driver

We left Lvchun headed for Jiangcheng in the front row of a newish white Higer bus with a talkative driver. Exactly how the long distance bus system works in China is a major mystery to us even though we've racked up thousands of kilometers on Chinese roads; however, after 6 hours in this bus it became more clear.

Our driver owns the bus himself. It is not owned by a company or the government. He paid 600,000 RMB, about 75,000 USD, four years ago for the bus and the route. However, the driver works for a company who owns the rights to drive 5 buses each day, each way, between Lvchun and Jiangchaeng. The route takes 6 hours when it's dry and 7 hours in the rainy season.

The number of buses, the route, and the fare is set by the provincial government who sells the tickets and collects the money. How the money collected as fares gets back to the driver we don't know. The bus also moves freight; mostly small packages, and occasionally picks up cash paying passengers along the way.

On this trip we noticed that unlike previous trips, the drivers do not pick up standing room passengers along the way. Our driver explained that the traffic police are enforcing the "no standees" rule and its a 5000 RMB (800 USD) fine if you get caught. Plus you are charged a "point" - there's a points system of some kind and 12 points in a lifetime and you are out of a job. It's really nice to be on a bus where everyone has a seat.

The driver pays a 1600 RMB flat fee plus 8% of his earning each month to either his company or the government (we are not clear on that). The bus has 37 seats. At 50RMB per seat thats 1850 RMB each day if the bus is full, about 300 USD. If he works 300 days a year, that's 90,000 USD before fees and expenses like gas which he pays out of his own pocket. But he probably works more like 360 days a year.

We liked the driver. His manner was gruff and he did NOT have a heart of gold, but he was concientous and had one daughter in university in Xian and another in middle school at home. He valued education - he was giving a free ride today to his daughter's teacher - and his goal in life was to get both daughters through university then retire and travel around China with his wife. And most of all, at one "bathroom break" stop he told the lady selling bananas that we were his friends and we got free bananas.

Here's a photo of our driver taking his bus through a bad section of S214. He made us passangers walk.


Crash Eddy said...

Hard to believe a bus that fancy would cost only $75000.

john said...

@Ed - FYI, the bus was 8 meters long, medium size, so that's about $3K/foot. Does that make more sense?

Crash Eddy said...

John, some feet of a bus are worth more than other feet. The engine, transmission, and drivers' compartment are worth more per foot that a foot of the passenger compartment. A flat rate doesn't do much for me. But thanks for trying.

john said...

Ed, Sometimes the prices of RV's and sailing yachts are estimated in "price per foot", usually several thousand dollars per foot, so why not buses? ;-)