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February 27, 2014

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Authority highlights risk to safety

Taxi booking apps are a safety risk and are damaging the reputation of the city’s taxi industry, according to Shanghai’s traffic authority.

In spite of the benefits — matching passengers with available vehicles and saving on fuel because of increased efficiency — heated competition between apps and especially the subsidies offered to drivers and passengers, were diverting attention from safety, officials said.

Complaints about drivers have been rising, particularly over the checking of  apps while taxis are on the move and taxi drivers ignoring passengers on the street.

Huang Xiaoyong, a spokesman for the Shanghai Transport and Port Administration, said charging extra fees was illegal but the apps had a function allowing passengers to add a tip so as to raise their chances of getting a taxi in bad weather or during rush hours. Because it was voluntary and drivers can accept tips given voluntarily, this was not illegal.

Huang said the authority was not advocating a complete ban on the use of apps but was encouraging cooperation between the software companies and the taxi companies.

The city’s transportation management department said yesterday that the Qiangsheng taxi company had finally reached an agreement with the software companies and from next month, the top light of a taxi would be changed to “dispatched” instead of “available” once a driver accepts an order via an app to avoid misleading passengers hailing from the sidewalk.

The city’s other three major taxi companies — Dazhong, Haibo and Jinjiang — have been urged to speed up technical reform of their dispatching systems to solve the top-light confusion.

Kuaidi Taxi and Didi Taxi, the two main apps, provide a subsidy of over 10 yuan to passengers and drivers for each ride paid through their online payment systems.

The authority said it was concerned about the negative impact apps were having on the perception of the city’s taxi industry, and it called for other departments to get involved.

Ma Fei, director of the transportation management department, said it had no jurisdiction as the software was backed by online payment companies which weren’t directly involved in transportation. “The traffic authorities don’t have the right to punish them, but can only call for joint investigation together with other departments who are in charge of the market.”

Taiyuan, capital city of north China’s Shanxi Province, reported 106 traffic accidents involving taxis in just two days last week, with the majority caused by drivers using taxi booking apps.

Though there are no similar statistics for Shanghai, concerns and worries are on the rise among taxi passengers.

One passenger complained that after she hailed a Qiangsheng taxi on Beihong Road last Friday the driver constantly turned to the apps during the ride. When they were about 100 meters from her destination in Xujiahui, the driver stopped the car and urged her to get off because he just picked up “big business” from the booking app. He even raised the meter immediately, forcing her to pay cash instead of using her transportation card.

Qiangsheng said they had given the driver a verbal warning.

Gao Yang, director of the company’s dispatching center, said such complaints have been on the rise.

“We ban our drivers using apps when they are driving. They can only use them when the car is parked or pulled over, otherwise they will bear full responsibility for any consequences.”

Gao said the company would be responsible for accidents involving passengers who had hailed the taxi on the street or if the journey had been booked through its dispatching system. However, the driver would be responsible for accidents during trips booked via apps.

Careless driving

“Taking orders from third party apps is the driver’s personal choice, and the deal is between the driver and the passenger. We will have the drivers pay for the loss themselves if an accident happens during a ride they accepted through the apps, as well as accidents due to careless driving caused by using software on the road,” Gao said.

Kuaidi Taxi said more than 80,000 cabbies in Shanghai had registered for its app and the software had 6.5 million users in the city. Shanghai has around 50,000 taxis in operation and 100,000 drivers.

Not all drivers are keen about using apps, however.

In a widely discussed story on the Internet, one driver said he once took an order through the app, and found his customer — a young man waiting in front of a hospital. At the same time, an elderly man was trying to hail a taxi at the same spot. Not being able to change the order, he had to pick the young man up instead of giving priority to the elderly man.

The driver said he had uninstalled the software, otherwise “the elderly would never be able to get taxis.”


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