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February 24, 2014

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Savvy cabbies cashing in on taxi apps

GONE are the days when taxi driver Chen drove aimlessly around the streets of Shanghai in search of his next fare.

With the introduction of smartphone booking apps, the tech-savvy driver is a now a lesson in efficiency.

“Even before I’ve dropped off the passenger I have in my cab, I know where my next fare is located,” the 50-year-old told Shanghai Daily.

Sometimes, if the routes overlap and the passengers agree, Chen, who works for the Dazhong Taxi Co, will even carry two fares at once, to different destinations.

“Making full use of the taxi booking applications can make work really efficient,” he said.

Chen, who declined to give his full name, said he’s been using the apps since their launch several years ago.

The veteran of 20 years said he usually takes about 40 fares a day, of which 30 come via the apps. To make sure he doesn’t miss any business, he carries four smartphones, each running a different piece of software.

The efficiency boost has had a huge impact on his working day, he said.

“I used to have to work until at least 11pm to make the money I needed, but now I’m done by 10pm,” he said.

Chen said he was particularly pleased when the companies behind two of the apps began offering incentives to drivers and passengers. The bonuses add up to about 100 yuan (US$16.42) a day, he said, adding that he has even set up a Wi-Fi network in his cab to help his passengers complete their mobile payments.

Another major change is the fact that Chen now seldom uses Dazhong’s dispatch system.

“It’s slow, and the 4 yuan service charge puts a lot of people off,” he said.

Dazhong Taxi said it has seen a drop in bookings through the dispatching system, but declined to elaborate.

Aside from the threat to the dispatch system, members of the public have complained that the new smartphone apps discriminate against people who don’t use them, saying it has now become difficult to hail a taxi in the street.

Michael Shaw, an Australian who has lived in Shanghai for seven years, said he has noticed a change since the introduction of the taxi booking programs.

“I’m turning to apps because it has become just the tiniest bit harder (to hail a cab from the street),” he said.

Jan Simon, a German who works in marketing for Mecedes-Benz, said he too thinks there are fewer taxis available, but he isn’t losing any sleep over it.

“I’m pretty traditional and not a big fan of things like this (taxi booking apps). I do fear the subsidies might cut the number of available taxis, but I also know the subsidies will come to an end, so I’m not too worried,” he said.

Liu Liming, a driver for the Shuhai Taxi Co, agreed with Simon, saying people have no reason to worry.

“I’ll always stop for someone who hails me in the street,” he said.

Liu, who’s been a taxi driver for about 10 years, said he gets between 10 and 12 fares a day from the booking apps.

“With the incentives available I can make a few dozen extra yuan a day from them,” he said. “But they won’t always be there, and once they’re gone the taxi service will get back to normal.”

Mobile payment battle

Keen to secure share of the mobile payment market, e-commerce giant Alibaba and Internet company Tencent have fixed their sights on the taxi sector.

Tencent-backed Didi Taxi offers people who settle their fares via its WeChat service savings of between 12 yuan and 20 yuan per trip, while users of the Alibaba-backed Kuaidi Taxi get at least 13 yuan off for settling up using Alipay.

Drivers are also paid a bonus for fares they collect via the programs, but are limited to 10 fares per app, per day.

Despite the subsidies available, some passengers can be greedy, Chen said.

He said they sometimes suggest dividing single fares into multiple trips to get bigger subsidies.

“But that’s not right,” he said. “I don’t support that kind of behavior, but some of my colleagues do.”

Amit Dayl, a self-employed app developer from Spain, said he’s had some technical problems with the software.

“I had Didi Taxi installed on my cellphone, but due to language barrier, I can’t have my bankcard attached to the software, so I haven’t really tried to pay through it,” he said.

“It will take some time to see whether the apps make it more difficult to hail a taxi on the street, but they will certainly help drivers to save fuel,” Dayl said.

The Shanghai Transport and Port Administration said it won’t interfere in the competition between app providers.

However, it does recommend passengers refrain from hailing taxis in the street as doing so can be dangerous. It said it is planning to open more ranks so people can wait for taxis safely.

“We will carry out more research and work with police to decide on the best places to locate the new ranks,” said Huang Xiaoyong, a spokesman for the transport and port administration.



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