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December 26, 2009

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Carpooling solves cold commutes

MORE people are turning to carpooling amid cold weather and continuous snow in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Li Mei, an office worker who lives 10 kilometers from her office, joined a carpool group she found on the Internet.

Li said: "It is too cold to wait outside for a taxi, and it would be even more painful hopping on a bus without heaters."

"More people have stopped riding motorcycles and bicycles due to the cold weather," she added. "The buses are always packed and taxis are always occupied during the rush hour, whereas carpooling is faster and more comfortable."

Each of the four partners in Li's carpool group benefits from direct pick-up and pays 150 yuan (US$22) a month for gasoline, half the cost of taking taxis every day.

Wang Zheng spends a 15th of his salary on carpooling. "It's more expensive than taking buses," said Wang, "but much better than suffering in freezing temperatures."

In bad weather, carpooling is also preferred by new drivers.

Chen Jie was recently granted a license, but has left her car in the garage. "My driving skills are not good enough to deal with the slippery road conditions," she said.

As a car owner, Zhang Wei also benefits from carpooling. With three others sharing his car, Zhang receives around 400 yuan every month.

Guo Yun, an executive of Xinjiang Gobi Oasis Environmental Technology Center, advocates carpooling, saying it helps cut carbon emissions. "Share-riding efficiently utilizes the space inside each car and reduces the total number of vehicles on road."

However, some commuters remain reluctant.

"The biggest concern is personal safety," said Liu Feifei, who refuses to share a car with strangers met online and takes buses instead.

Akber Azezi, an official in charge of passenger transport in Urumqi, said car owners might face legal action if they made illegal profits without a taxi license.

However, Zhao Jianliang, a lawyer with Xinjiang Zhitong Law Office, disagreed. "If partners share gasoline and maintenance costs, they should not be regarded as illegal."


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