Future of transport

Commuters blast taxi app Didi Kuaidi's foray into bus service over poor routes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 July, 2015, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 5:01pm

Early adopters of a new shuttle bus service launched in two Chinese cities by Didi Kuaidi, China's largest taxi- and car-hailing app, vented at the service’s choice of routes on Friday while praising the advantages it offers such as a guaranteed seat.

They were able to enjoy fares for less than one American cent due to a promotional pricing scheme in operation for the first week of the scheme, which launched Thursday, but even this didn’t appease some white-collar customers.

“The design of the route ruined the trip,” said Zhang Weiran, a white-collar worker in Shenzhen, a city in south China’s Guangdong province.

“I was excited at first, but now I feel stupid to have chosen Didi Bus,” she added.

The service was first launched in Shenzhen and Beijing but will later be expanded to more Chinese cities in a bid to plug holes in public transport links for less than the cost of taking a taxi, the company said. 

Zhang said it took 70 minutes to reach her destination on Friday morning, whereas his regular bus journey is just 45 minutes.

“The route is not optimised at all compared to regular bus routes,” she said.

“Compared to three-yuan (50-cent) bus ticket, the 12-yuan Didi Bus fare is not at all competitive,” she added, referring to the regular starting fare that will come into effect next Friday.

Other passengers said the vehicles scored points in terms of comfort, cleanliness, temperature control and Wi-fi connectivity, suggesting Didi Kuaidi got something right. 

“It’s much faster than a taxi or private care, and at the same time, more comfortable than a bus,” said Zhang Ming, a 25-year-old salesman in the city, who appreciated the use of bus lanes to bypass tailbacks at rush hour.

But when the South China Morning Post took the temperature of passengers on Friday, few said they expected to continue using the service once the promotion ended. 

Didi Bus currently covers 33 routes in the two cities but will expand to several hundred routes by the end of this month if demand grows. The company said it is targeting white collars aged 20 to 40. 

About 10,000 people used the service in China on Thursday and twice as many were expected to do so on Friday, it said.

Despite its grand ambitions, Didi Kuaidi seems to have either deliberately kept the project low-profile in Shenzhen, or done a poor job of promoting it. Most residents surveyed by the Post expressed no knowledge of the scheme late last week.

One 37-seat bus that departed a suburban area early Thursday morning welcomed just eight customers, half of whom had booked digital tickets using their smartphones. 

While private cars were caught up in congestion, the Didi Bus breezed past them on special lanes used by government-run buses.

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

The company said it is talking with local transport authorities and bus operators on ways they can cooperate.

The official transport commissions of the two cities were unavailable for comment. 

Didi Bus does not enjoy a monopoly in China’s customised shuttle service market. Other Chinese apps like Tata Bus, Pig84 and Dudu Bus offer point-to-point transportation with no stops, but for a higher fare.

According to Chinese media, Dada (“honk honk”) Bus operates in seven cities on the Chinese mainland, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu in southwest China’s Sichuan province, with a total of more than 800 shuttle buses.

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.

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.

However, it may have felt concerned about its future in China after Beijing declared its private car services 'illegal' last month amid a nationwide backlash from irate taxi drivers, including a recent incident in Guangzhou.

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 minute