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January 6, 2014

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Keeping city driving services companies on the right road

After dining with a friend at downtown Julu Road, Gao Jun took out his car key and offered a ride to his companion. When the friend refused, pointing out that they had just finished a bottle of red wine, Gao smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t be driving. I’ve just called a driving service.”

Driving services have developed quickly in Shanghai since drunk driving became a criminal offence in 2011, with car owners who have been out socializing calling for a driver to take the wheel.

A ride usually costs between 50 yuan (US$8.2) and 300 yuan, depending on the distance.

Gao’s car was parked in a nearby residential area where the driver, a man in his 30s, was already waiting.

Before setting off, the driver produced an agreement document, which included items on responsibility in the event of an accident and confirmation of car insurance, for Gao to sign.

The driver had an app which functions as a meter installed on his smartphone by his company.

Gao had his friend dropped off first, before heading home himself. Once Gao and his car were safely home, the driver made his own way back.

Gao paid around 60 yuan for the 9-kilometer service. If he had taken a taxi, the fee would have been 35 yuan.

“The price difference is acceptable as you do need driving services in this type of situation. However, you need to be careful when choosing a company, and there might sometimes be risks,” warned Gao.

Disputes over responsibility

There are more than 160 registered driving service companies in Shanghai, providing more than 60,000 rides a month. However, a large number of companies and drivers not registered with industrial and commercial departments are offering similar services, leading to conflicts over charges and disputes over responsibility when accidents occur.

The Shanghai Consumer’s Right Protection Association said it received a complaint about a driver who was unfamiliar with a vehicle and drove 10 kilometers without releasing the parking brake, damaging the brake system.

But it was a long process to establish who was liable, as the driver was temporarily hired by the restaurant where the car owner had dined and no contract was signed, said the association.

The Shanghai Road Transportation Trade Association last month called for the establishment of a driving service committee, which is expected to attract around 100 companies. It will set service standards for the companies and regulate the business. Regulations are expected to include criteria for drivers, company qualifications, pricing references and defining responsibility in the event of an accident.

Remain conscious

The committee will work with insurance companies to provide related products. It will also encourage companies to use wireless systems to keep in touch with drivers.

And as the service appeals to parties who have been drinking, drivers will also be required to ensure that at least one reveller in the car remains conscious during the journey to avoid problems with claims of property going missing.

“We welcome the establishment of such a committee, as standard regulations will help the business,” said Duan Yan, general manager of Shanghai Master An Driving Service Co Ltd.

Duan says the company sets its prices after considering factors such as the cost of calling a taxi and parking fees.

Master An charges between 35 yuan to 95 yuan for a ride within 8 kilometers, with the price determined by the service time. Every kilometer after that costs 2.8 yuan.

Drivers are required to reach their customers within half an hour and an additional fee is charged if a Master An driver is made to wait for the customer for more than 30 minutes.

“We have seen an increase in business since Christmas and this is expected to continue through to the Chinese New Year,” said Duan.

Master An has around 1,000 drivers — all working part-time and with an average age of 30. A driver can expect three to four jobs a night with the company taking a 20 to 30 percent cut.

Costs incurred reaching the customer are covered by the driver.

“We have a rating system for our drivers. The better a driver performs, the more they earn,” said Duan.

Midnight peak

Most calls come after dinner time, with a second peak around midnight. The drivers usually have day jobs and are seeking extra income. Would-be Master An drivers are tested on traffic rules and knowledge of city roads. Appearance is also taken into consideration.

Duan said some drivers have provided the service for foreign customers. “Language is not too big a problem as long as customers can make their destinations clear,” he said.

Under Chinese law, anybody found drunk driving — where the alcohol amount in his or her blood exceeds 80 milligrams per milliliter — is detained for 15 days, receives a 1,500 yuan fine and 12-point deduction and has their license suspended for six months.

Chinese driving licenses start out with 12 points.

If the alcohol amount is between 20 and 80 milligrams per milliliter, the fine is 500 yuan and the license suspended for three months.



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