Didi Kuaidi driver in Guangzhou faces record 100,000 yuan fine as Chinese authorities tighten the screws on car-hailing apps
A private car driver working for China’s top car-hailing app Didi Kuaidi in the southern province of Guangdong is facing a record fine of 100,000 yuan (US$15,735) for engaging in illegal transport activities and reaping illicit profits, he said.
It is the largest known fine levied against drivers working for such apps in the country, which has struggled all year with a backlash from established taxi industry players that have spurred government crackdowns, raids and police stings.
The man, Cui Gaohui, told the South China Moring Post on Wednesday that he was notified of the punishment by local transport authorities in the city of Guangzhou.
The news comes one day after authorities in Shenzhen, another major city in the same province, declared similar services provided by apps like Didi Kuaidi, San Francisco-baed Uber and other Chinese players including Ucar illegal.
On June 9, undercover police stopped Cui on a road in the city’s Dongshan district, he said. He was carrying a passenger and using the company’s Didi Zhuanche private car-hailing app.
Fearing punishment for operating without a permit, he said he sent a message appealing for help to a social media group used by his fellow drivers.
Hundreds of them rushed to the scene and surrounded the car, trying to force the police officers to let him go and not impound his car, he said.
Dozens of armed police soon arrived to support their colleagues, leading to an altercation between them and protesting drivers, he added.
The incident caused a tailback of more than 2 kilometres that lasted for several hours. At around 4.15pm, Cui was set free with his car without being fined or punished, he said.
There were no reported injuries.
Cui thought the incident was over until municipal transport committee officials turned up at his door Monday and handed him a written notice that he had broken the law by illegally running a taxi business without an official permit.
According to the country’s road regulations, those involved in illegal transportation activities can be fined between 30,000 and 100,000 yuan providing their profits are below 20,000 yuan.
Cui said he would plead not guilty and asked to see some incriminating evidence, at which point the officials said they had video recordings from the scene.
“I don’t think the recording could serve as irrefutable evidence, because I didn’t accept any cash or check from the passenger,” Cui said.
“I was just helping Didi Kuaidi take care of one of its passenger.”
Cui said staff from the popular app told him to be patient and wait for further notice from it.
Didi declined to comment on the case but said "we always pay attention to the interests of both Didi Kuaidi's drivers and passengers ... and we will keep in close communication and cooperation with local authorities."
The use of private vehicles for car-hailing, app-based services has triggered a series of protests, including smashed cabs and go-slow campaigns, from cabbies across China and in Hong Kong this year, as well as in other countries like France.
China has responded by cracking down on the apps, 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.
Uber also found itself the target of a police sting in Hong Kong in August that saw at least seven drivers arrested and three office staff detained.
The company, which operates in 58 countries, recently opted to shelve its low-cost service in France after a nationwide protest strike there turned violent.
On Wednesday, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff blamed Uber for increasing unemployment, thus joining a chorus of labor concerns about the company.