Beijing ambulances to get taxi-style meters

A Beijing ambulance Image copyright AFP
Image caption Calling an ambulance can be an expensive business in China

Ambulances in Beijing will be fitted with taxi-style meters in an effort to allay public concerns about overcharging.

From May, the emergency vehicles will charge a fixed rate of 50 yuan ($8; £5) for patients being transported up to 3km (1.9 miles), and then seven yuan for each kilometre travelled after that, the Beijing Morning Post reports. If an ambulance is called but then not needed, a 50-yuan charge will still apply, the paper notes.

Until now, ambulance drivers worked out the charges themselves, often leading to complaints from members of the public who felt that their bills were too high, The Beijing News says.

In February, Chinese media reported that a man in Shandong was slapped with a 3,600-yuan ($550; £380) charge after his ill father was transported 80km to hospital. That's about half the monthly wage of an average Beijing worker.

On social media, the fact that ambulances charge for their services at all is news to most users. "I always thought that ambulances were free," writes one person on the Sina Weibo microblogging site. Plenty of people think it's unethical to charge for emergency services, and one user wonders: "Will you need an entrance ticket to go into hospital in future?"

A few users think that ambulance meters are a good idea, with one saying it'll help them "be more efficient". But some sarcastically suggest that - as with some unscrupulous taxi drivers - the meters might provide an incentive to take the long way round. "In future, don't rule out ambulances taking a detour when using the meter," one man says.

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