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May 22, 2013

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'Gadget geek' cabbie told to pull profitable apps over safety fears

A SHANGHAI taxi driver, dubbed the "gadget geek" for installing several mobile devices with taxi-booking apps in his car, was forced to remove some of them after the taxi company he works for voiced safety concerns.

The driver claimed that the apps helped him to earn more money and avoid driving around the city aimlessly.

The cabbie, surnamed Chen, became an online hit after pictures posted by a passenger showed that at least four mobile devices, including two cellphones, one iPad and one taxi call-center terminal, were stuck on the front window of the car.

"It is quite amazing. The driver said all the devices could download more than 10 taxi-booking apps," said the passenger, Zhan Xinhui, who posted the pictures online on May 17. The blog was reposted thousands of times and attracted many comments.

Chen was praised for smartly using the apps to boost his business. But it also drew the attention of the taxi company.

"Just friendly talks," Chen said after coming out of a meeting with his company's bosses yesterday. "No fines, no punishments."

The company, Shanghai Dazhong Taxi Co, one of the leading taxi fleets in the city, said there are fears about safety as the driver stuck all the devices on the front window, which obstructed the view. "I will just keep them in my pocket," said Chen, who declined interview requests in an attempt to play down the matter.

Internet claims 'wrong'

Chen, who has been driving for 17 years, was told about the apps by his daughter. He said the claims on the Internet that he could earn as much as 2,000 yuan (US$326) extra every month, were not true. "It's not that much" was all he would say.

Chen said the gadgets boosted business, with 20 percent of the daily business volume coming from app bookings.

The app developers also paid him commission for every successful use of the app.

Understandably, more taxi drivers are following suit, riding on the technological boom.

A new booking platform on the popular WeChat opened to the public this month.

While the taxi companies are trying to find ways to develop their own apps, or linking their call centers to the cellphone apps, they still viewed the new methods as "supplementary to the call centers." But the volume of taxi bookings through the call centers has fallen ever since the companies started charging 4 yuan extra.

The Shanghai traffic administration has said it will not restrict the use of apps as long as they are safe. But drivers cannot charge extra from passengers for using the apps even though some riders are willing to shell out more to get a taxi during rush hour.


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