Greedy Shanghai taxi drivers show the 'evil' side of new technology | South China Morning Post
  • Wed
  • Apr 1, 2015
  • Updated: 11:36am
Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 March, 2014, 2:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 March, 2014, 12:07pm

Greedy Shanghai taxi drivers show the 'evil' side of new technology

Taxi-booking apps offering bonuses to drivers illustrate how technology can have a detrimental impact on society, especially the elderly

BIO

George Chen is Managing Editor for SCMP.com International Edition and Mr. Shangkong Columnist. George has covered China's political and economic changes since 2002. George is the author of two books: This is Hong Kong I Know (2014) and Foreign Banks in China (2011). George has been named a 2014 Yale World Fellow. Follow George on Twitter: @george_chen.
 

Google once had an informal corporate motto - "Don't be evil" - a sentiment often shared by many other technology firms around the world.

Technology itself can't be evil if we see it purely from a scientific perspective, but how we make use of it can be a very different story.

Take the example of a new technology that has already had a big impact on daily life on the mainland.

Last week, Shanghai's municipal government issued an order forbidding taxi drivers from accepting reservations through smartphone-powered taxi-booking apps between 7.30am and 9.30am, and 4.30pm and 6.30pm - rush hours when many want to catch a taxi ride.

In my view, the Shanghai government did the right thing. Some may argue the move went against "free economy and competition" but you have to look into the ugly details of how much inconvenience and trouble those taxi-booking apps have caused, especially to the city's elderly, who deserve better care and should not be ignored just because they were unaware of the new technology, unlike the young.

Those who don't use taxi booking apps find it extremely difficult to hail a taxi on the street

There were many accounts and complaints about how elderly people in Shanghai felt completely lost when they tried to hail a taxi on the street because many taxi drivers just refused to pick up customers who didn't use taxi-booking apps and would only pay normal fares.

Taxi drivers can get a so-called bonus on top of normal fares, not directly from passengers who use taxi-booking apps, but from the technology firms who provide such apps.

Several such firms have spent millions of yuan to lure both taxi drivers and passengers, but of course those marketing efforts will not last forever.

As a result, those who don't use taxi-booking apps find it extremely difficult to hail a taxi on the street in Shanghai. It shows how technology can adversely affect the normal order of social life.

The following story was widely circulated in Shanghai recently, and illustrates the point. It is about an old woman who stood on the street, in front of a hospital gate after she had just visited the doctor for some medical checks.

She waited on the street for about an hour trying to hail a taxi without success.

Many taxis stopped but the first question the drivers asked her was if she had this or that taxi-booking app in her smartphone in the hope they could get the bonus on top of the normal fare. She didn't have one of the apps so those taxi drivers said sorry and left her on the side of the road.

I am not sure if the mayor of Shanghai heard the story but I believe this is one of the reasons why the city's government did the right thing in limiting the usage of taxi-booking apps.

We will all get old someday and nobody wants to be left behind by society just because of new technology. Any kind of new technology should improve the quality of life for the general public, not just allow some people, like taxi drivers, to make quick money or help app developers quickly gather enough users so they can get listed on Nasdaq and make their own fortune.

 

George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit facebook.com/mrshangkong

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