Uber sets up 50 private meeting stations in China’s Guangzhou, but drivers feel like sitting ducks after police sting

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 August, 2015, 6:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 5:01pm

Under-fire car-hailing app Uber launched 50 private meeting stations for passengers and drivers in Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong province, on Tuesday, but resistance is expected as nerves remain rattled by a recent police sting operation.

According to the “Uber Station” programme, the first of its kind in China, Uber users can meet their hired cars at 50 designated locations downtown, including malls, after the company inked agreements with a number of local property operators.

Each site will be marked with an Uber-branded sign in English and Chinese as well as a serial number for ease of reference, the company said.

Uber said this should make it easier for parties on both sides to connect, but several Uber drivers in the city expressed concern about being sitting ducks after seven of their peers were arrested in Hong Kong last week for lacking permits to ferry customers around.

“This poses quite a risk, unless the local authorities welcome and approve the programme.” said local Uber driver Jay Lee.

“It would be the perfect trap for undercover police to catch us,” he said. “I wouldn’t risk going close to one of these stations, at least not yet.”

The use of private vehicles for car-hailing, app-based services has triggered a backlash from taxi drivers across China and in Hong Kong this year, as well as in other countries like France

Furious Chinese cabbies have organised go-slow campaigns and attacked cars and drivers of the rival service which they blame for eating into their business.

The government has cracked down on apps like Uber and Didi Kuaidi, with police raiding Uber’s offices in Sichuan’s Chengdu and Guangzhou in May and Beijing declaring the Chinese company's Didi Kuaiche and Didi Zhuanche services illegal in June.

But Uber told the South China Morning Post this week that each of its new stations in Guangzhou is located in a private-access area run by parties with which it has a cooperative agreement. 

READ MORE: Uber exec hopes for 'smart regulation' of Hong Kong sharing economy following police raid

Leading Chinese real estate company Vanke is one of its partners on the new scheme, which does not require the approval of local authorities, Uber added.

If the trial proves a success, more stations may be put in place in other Chinese cities, said Uber’s Beijing-based spokeswoman Huang Xue.

“The programme could bring better user experience to both Guangzhou citizens and new arrivals to the city,” she added.

The Guangzhou authorities with legal jurisdiction over this area were not immediately available for comment.

As the Chinese government seeks to exercise more control over this legal grey area, Beijing’s municipal government is planning to launch its own Uber-like online taxi hire service, Feidi Dache, to compete with car-hailing apps like Uber and Didi Kuaidi, according to the Beijing Morning Post.

Didi Kuaidi, the result of a merger earlier this year of two major Chinese rivals, now very much dominates the mainland Chinese market. 

READ MORE: Uber gets backing of Hong Kong insurers – so long as government gives car-hailing apps the green light

Government-backed Feidi Dache will also operate as a smartphone app offering rides to customers for online payment, but only licensed taxis will be involved, the report said. 

The app has been installed in 15,000 taxis in the Chinese capital with the total number expected to quadruple by the end of the month, it added.

Meanwhile, Didi Kuaidi launched a new service this week that lets customers in Hangzhou, in East China’s wealthy Zhejiang province, hail small electric cars. 

Called Xiaodi, it can be accessed from a subpage on the app after the private-car-hailing Kuaiche function is selected, the company said.

Customers can save 20 per cent from the company’s regular cab-hailing fee by opting to go electric with an E20 model made by a local provincial manufacturer, Didi Kuaidi said. The catch: the car only fits one passenger.

The automaker, Skio Electric Vehicle Co., said it plans to provide 5,000 new energy vehicles to Didi Kuaidi’s car – and taxi - hailing platforms in the Chinese city this year.

Separately in China, six government ministries issued a joint statement on Monday warning developers at the four major car-hailing apps to "restructure" their services to fit local regulations within a certain timeline

Executives from Uber, Didi Kuaidi, Ucar and Yongche were summoned to discuss regulatory matters, state media reported, without elaborating.