Future of transport

Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Kuaidi shifts gear to shuttle buses to exploit poorly fed routes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 July, 2015, 6:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 5:01pm

China's largest taxi- and car-hailing app Didi Kuaidi announced on Thursday it will launch direct shuttle services in Beijing and a city in the southern province of Guangdong, with immediate effect.

The project, Didi Bus, will start with 33 routes in the Chinese capital and 10 routes in Shenzhen, before widening its scope to include several hundred routes by the end of this month, the company said.

Many popular residential and office locations in the two metropolises’ downtown areas will be covered, it said. 

Routes will take in the tech hub of Zhongguancun and suburban Tongzhou district in Beijing, as well a key industrial park and convention centre in Shenzhen, among other areas, it added.

To use the service, people will first have to download China’s hugely popular mobile networking tool WeChat, developed by internet services portal Tencent. They will then be able to access the service via Didi Bus’s official WeChat page.

To generate early traffic, the company said it is offering promotional first-week fares of 0.01 yuan (less than two-tenths of a cent). After this, tickets will range from seven to 13 yuan (US$1.13 to US$2.10), or about four to five times higher than public bus services.

The company said it is targeting commuters whose needs are not satisfied by public transport, and that its target riders are white collars aged between 20 and 40.

Despite a recent backlash in China against car-hailing apps, with San Francisco-based Uber taking the brunt of local cab drivers' anger, Didi Kuaidi has been enjoying much success of late. Earlier this month, it began offering free rides in hundreds of cities across China following a record-breaking funding round that hit US$2 billion.

But its latest scheme seems to have been kept deliberately low-profile in Shenzhen, with few residents showing any awareness of it. Yet the company said 10,000 people made use of it on Thursday, with the number expected to double the following day.

It anticipates demand quickly escalating to tens of thousands of users per day next month in both cities, and said it is talking with local transport authorities and bus operators on ways they can cooperate. 

Zhang Weiran, a clerk who lives in the city, welcomed the news and said it would shorten her commute time to Shenzhen’s central business district. She said the city lacked convenient transport links from her place of work to her home.

After setting up an account and buying her first ticket, all in a few minutes, she already knew the driver’s name, the license plate of the vehicle, and that it would be a 39-seat bus.

“I can’t wait to have a try. Technological innovations like this make our lives better,” she said. 

“I just hope it’s a clean bus with a Wi-fi connection and air-conditioning.”

The official transport commissions of Beijing and Shenzhen were unavailable for comment.

Official statistics show the Didi Kuaidi platform currently receives 6 million orders a day, making up 80 per cent of China’s vehicle-hailing app market.

Customised shuttle services are the first step in Didi Kuaidi’s entry into the public transport sector. It hopes to use the data gathered to create an ecosystem that integrates cars and buses, it said.

Didi Kuaidi was formed in February when rival apps Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache merged. It now controls more than 90 per cent of China's taxi-hailing market. 

Last week, it revealed that it had raised US$2 billion in a single fundraising round, breaking Facebook's record of US$1.5 billion and giving the company cash reserves of more than US$3.5 billion.

Didi-Kuaidi said its goal is to become the largest one-stop travel platform in the world within three years, with 10 million drivers offering their services to a total of 30 million passengers every day. It is targeting a maximum pickup time of three minutes.