Didi and Uber workers in Guangzhou fight with police after unlicensed driver detained
An altercation between police and an unlicensed private car hire driver led to a large traffic jam in downtown Guangzhou in the latest incident between Chinese authorities and drivers using taxi-hailing apps.
At around noon on Wednesday, undercover police stopped a driver using the Didi Zhuanche private car-hailing app on Shuiyin Road in the city's Dongshan district.
Fearing a large fine for offering taxi services without a license, the driver sent an SOS message to a social media group used by his fellow drivers, according to Wang Wei, a licensed driver who uses both Uber and the market-leading Didi Kuaidi taxi booking apps.
Hundreds of private car drivers across the city rushed to the scene, Wang said, including himself. By this point, the car had been moved to Guangzhou Avenue, a main thoroughfare in the northeast of the city.
“We surrounded the car and tried to force the police offers to let the driver and his car go."
Dozens of armed police officers soon arrived on the scene to support their colleagues, he said, leading to an altercation between them and protesting drivers.
No people were injured, according to Wang, despite several scuffles.
The incident led to a traffic jam stretching for more than two kilometres which lasted several hours. At around 4.15pm the driver was freed along with his car without being fined or punished.
The driver of the car could not be reached for comment.
Wang said the incident showed the power of car-hailing app drivers. "[We] have become good friends. We would stand up for each other no matter if it is an Uber driver or a Didi driver who is in trouble."
He said that drivers are in talks to start a fund to help any of their number who might be fined by the authorities in the future. "There are at least 30,000 drivers working with Uber and Didi [in Guangzhou]. If every one donates one yuan that will be enough to pay the fine."
This is not the first time drivers in Guangzhou have united to defend each other. In late May, hundreds of Uber drivers came to the rescue of a colleague after four passengers threatened to report him to the police for not having a license unless he paid them 20,000 yuan.
However, the widespread use of Uber-style apps, particularly by unlicensed drivers, has led to increasing opposition in China from taxi drivers, many of whom feel threatened by how the services are encroaching on their business.
Mindful of the potential for unrest, the central government recently enacted a law that bans private cars from offering rides via apps, but enforcement is patchy and the popularity of the services is booming.
In April, authorities raided Uber offices in Chengdu and Guangzhou, while offices belonging to domestic car service Didi Kuaidi in Luoyang, Henan province, were shut down in May after an altercation between taxi drivers that threatened to get out of hand.