Didi Chuxing

Going my way? Chinese ridesharing app brings strangers together on the road home for the holidays

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 February, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 February, 2016, 8:00am

All three were young people from the same small town in eastern Guangdong province and had worked in Shenzhen for years but it took a ridesharing app to bring them together for the trip home for Lunar New Year.

Wang Yin, Lin Sheng and Li Xiaomin had been strangers until they made the five-hour trip back to Sanrao township in Li’s BMW on February 3.

They were among more than one million people across the mainland who used a new intercity ridesharing service launched by China’s top car-hailing app Didi Kuaidi over the Lunar New Year travel season.

The new service uses an algorithm to match passengers with motorists and calculates an estimated price for the journey.

Each year, hundreds of millions of migrant workers head home at the same time for the holidays, putting massive pressure on China’s transport system. Nearly 3.7 billion journeys are made on trains, buses and ferries over the 40-day festive period, even though the official holiday period lasts for less than a week. And tickets are often sold out months in advance.

“We all agree the cross-city ridesharing service really helps migrant workers who need to get home,” Li said.

Through the app, drivers choose how many passengers they want to take and passengers specify if they have big luggage, children or pets. Either party can say if they want to travel with men or women.

The longer the journey, the lower the per-kilometre rate. The standard charge is about 0.7 yuan per kilometre for the first 30km, 0.44 yuan for 30km to 500km and only 0.33 yuan per km for anything beyond that. Passengers and drivers can also take out insurance for the trips.

READ MORE: Didi Kuaidi, other car-hailing apps ‘adding to Beijing’s traffic problems’, says transport chief

Li said Wang paid Didi 202.6 yuan (HK$240) while Lin contributed 185.8 yuan for the roughly 500km trip from Shenzhen to Sanrao. Didi deducted 10 yuan in a booking fee and gave the rest to Li, he said.

“It’s quite a good deal during the holiday. My wife went back to Sanrao from Shenzhen on February 6 by high-speed train. She had to pay 250 yuan to ticket touts for the 101 yuan-ticket to Chaozhou and another 50 to 80 yuan for a taxi from Chaozhou train station to Sanrao,” he said.

Li said the deal also worked out well for him. “I bought the BMW two months ago and really wanted to drive it back home and show it to my family and friends in Sanrao. The ridesharing fee covered the highway fee and fuel costs.”

Beijing-based business development manager Ge Anwei and his wife also tapped into the app for the 700km trip home to Shandong on February 2. They were picked up at 7amin Beijing and arrived at their home in Zhongzhi township in Shandong about six hours later.

“In the past, we’ve had to spend four-and-a-half hours on a train from Beijing to Weifang, then three hours on a bus to Rizhao, and another half an hour on a bus to Wulian county before walking half an hour to Zhongzhi,” Ge said.

“That nine-hour trip cost us 650 yuan each but this year we only paid 514 yuan for a ride that took just six hours.”

READ MORE: China’s Didi Kuaidi to launch cross-city car-hailing service over Chinese New Year to aid world’s biggest human migration

Ge said he did worry beforehand about the driver’s skill and whether he would stand them up but the car was clean and the driver was pleasant.

“We talked about our jobs in Beijing, and local customs in Rizhao. I relaxed and even slept for a few hours in the car,” he said.

According to Didi, more than half of the trips booked through the app were more than 400km, and most orders came from the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta.

About 9 per cent of the drivers didn’t charge their passengers in the end because of the friendship they felt during the journey.

But safety and traffic jams are still concerns for some.

“I didn’t dare close my eyes during the trip because the driver was a novice and often braked suddenly on the highway,” said 30-year-old Guo Jun, who spent 33 hours on the road covering the 1500km from Shenzhen to Ankang in Shaanxi province.

“It should have taken about 20 hours. But the heavy snow and traffic jam stretched it out into 33 hours,” Guo said.