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April 1, 2014

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Taxi apps integrated, but problems remain

THE city’s four largest taxi firms have completed the integration of their dispatch systems with the two most popular booking apps.

Under the new system, which is designed to make the status of cabs clearer to people on the street, as soon as a driver accepts a booking via one of the apps, the top light on the cab will automatically change from “For Hire” to “Dispatched.”

The Shanghai Qiangsheng Taxi Co was the first to complete the integration early last month, followed by Dazhong, Haibo and Jinjiang.

But despite the plan’s best intentions, a flaw has already been identified.

If a driver accepts a booking via an app while already carrying a passenger, the top light will revert to “For Hire” once the first fare is completed and the cab is on its way to collect the second. As a result, the vehicle will wrongly appear as available to anyone trying to hail a cab on the street.

While the authorities asked app operators Kuaidi and Didi to make it impossible for drivers to accept new fares while carrying passengers, the firms said they were unable to comply for technical reasons. They added that the “cooperation” with the taxi companies had been one-way and that they had no way of knowing if a driver was carrying a fare or not.

For their part, several taxi firms said the integration of the apps had created a lot of extra work.

Qiangsheng Taxi said it now has to manually switch up to 600 extra top lights per hour, while Jinjiang Taxi said it switches an additional 400.

Another problem is that the system applies only to taxis linked to a dispatch center. The Shanghai Transport Committee said just 70 percent of the cabs operating in the downtown area are so linked, but it plans to raise that figure to 100 percent by the end of the year.

Despite the technical problems, the system is helping police to identify people operating illegal or “cloned” taxis.

Some legitimate drivers said their top lights changed even without taking an app booking. They quickly deduced that they were the victims of identity theft and that their registration details were being used by unlicensed drivers.

The taxi firms said they would pass on any relevant information to police.


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