Popular Chinese taxi-booking apps leave smartphone-free travellers out in the cold

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 1:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 3:46pm

While millions of internet-savvy Chinese mainlanders benefit from escalating competition between two rapidly-growing taxi mobile applications fighting for dominance in the market, those without smartphones have found hailing a taxi in the street more difficult than ever.

The taxi-booking applications Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, backed by internet giants Tencent and Alibaba respectively, are perhaps currently the two most popular apps in China. Recent promotions announcing hundreds of millions of yuan of subsidies for users have prompted a surge in taxi-bookings among the younger generations in big cities.

But several residents in Beijing have told The Beijing News another side of the story. While booking taxis through mobile apps becomes more popular, it has become increasingly difficult to hail a taxi on street, the newspaper reported, citing the experiences of some who complained of being repeatedly ignored by taxis on the road.

“This is mostly because everyone is too busy racing for the online customers so they can enjoy the promotions,” a taxi driver was quoted as saying. When a customer booking enquiry is received by the hundreds of taxi drivers nearby, the first one who accepts the booking must rush to the scene to fulfil the booking or risk being given negative feedback.

“Taxi drivers ought not to be picky about passengers hailing them on the street, but we do have freedom in choosing among different online bookings,” another taxi driver was quoted as saying in the report.

The attractive promotions have also encouraged some taxi drivers to roam the streets, waiting for the nearest mobile booking while totally ignoring passers-by who try to hail them on the street, the report said, leaving elderly people and those do not use smartphones the most disadvantaged group.

The report depicts a stark difference from the rosy picture that experts had painted earlier saying that all passengers would benefit from the competition between the two companies.

Both drivers and passengers who use Didi Dache get a 10-yuan subsidy for each ride, with fares directly transferred between the passengers' and the drivers' bank accounts linked to their instant-messaging mobile application WeChat. Kuaid Dache’s promotion, rolled out just days after that of its rival, announced a 10-yuan rebate for passengers while drivers get 15 yuan back.

The promotions have proved to be a godsend for passengers in the mainland where taxi fares usually cost no more than several dozen yuan. It also provides incentives to taxi drivers in traffic-congested cities like Beijing who tend to absent themselves during peak hours of traffic.