Future of transport

Uber and Didi Kuaidi drivers face violence, blackmail as Chinese car-hailing apps grow in popularity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 June, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 3:58pm

A number of drivers working for taxi and car-hailing apps in China, including Uber and market-leader Didi Kuaidi, have reported being attacked or subject to attempted blackmail in recent weeks.

The latest incident happened early on Sunday morning in the southern city of Guangzhou, when hundreds of Uber drivers rushed to a street in the city after hearing that four passengers had tried to extort 20,000 yuan (US$3,224) from one of their peers.

Local Uber driver Li Jie told said he was notified that trouble was brewing at around midnight on Sunday via a social media group used by his fellow drivers.

“Drivers in the chat group said that four men were refusing to leave the vehicle unless the driver handed over 20,000 yuan,” he told the South China Morning Post.

“If their demands were not met, they threatened to report to the local transport police that the driver was operating an illegal cab.”

Uber and local car-hailing apps have faced 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, China 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.

Authorities have recently raided the offices of Uber in the cities of 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.

Li said he drove to the scene in Guangzhou and found a band of Uber drivers had parked their cars in the middle of the road, surrounding the four men and causing tailbacks.

Dozens of armed police responded to the disturbance, Li said, adding that rumours spread later that the four had been released from custody with no charges filed.

Neither the driver of the car in question nor the four men could be reached for comment. Local police refused a request to comment.

Several incidents were also reported last week of between the different groups of drivers.

Over 100 local taxi drivers took to the streets in the northern city of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province early Friday morning to protest over cabbies from outside the area, whom they said had been stealing their business for years.

Four taxis with number plates registered in other cities were overturned by local cabbies at about 1:30 am in the city’s downtown. No casualties were reported and police were investigating the case.

Last Wednesday, scores of taxi drivers in the central city of Zhengzhou in Henan province attacked a vehicle whose driver used ride-hailing app Didi Zhuanche, according to state media reports.

Luxury car-hailing service Didi Zhuanche is a subsidiary of Didi Kuaidi, which controls more than 95 per cent of the Chinese taxi-hailing market. The company, formed by the controversial merger of two of the country's top taxi-hailing apps, recently launched a car-pooling service in Beijing, with plans to roll it out to 26 other Chinese cities later this month.

Uber now covers nine Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chongqing. According to local media in Guangzhou, over 15,000 private vehicles registered with Uber were operating daily in the city as of mid-last month. Market leader Didi Kuaidi covers 360 cities and has 1.35 million drivers.