Passengers hail new rule on local taxi apps

It is an open secret in the industry that taxi drivers prefer long-distance orders via the app because they are more profitable. Short journeys are often neglected.

Many passengers would have found it easier to catch a cab on the street on Tuesday after a new rule issued by the city’s transport commission which blocks passengers’ destinations on apps such as Didi Chuxing before an order is accepted.

The new rule was largely welcomed by passengers.

“Usually they just passed me by even if the cab was vacant,” said office worker Lei Jian, who often felt frustrated when trying to find a cab to work just 3 kilometers from home. But he caught a cab easily yesterday.

Qian Yi, a businesswoman, said had she never succeeded in ordering a taxi on Didi when she wanted to take her son to nearby Changhai Hospital in Yangpu District. 

“I live in Guoding community which is 2 kilometers from the hospital,” said Qian. “But every time I place an order to Pudong international airport, it would be immediately accepted, without exception.”

It is an open secret in the industry that taxi drivers prefer long-distance orders via the app because they are more profitable. Short journeys, or requests to go to downtown during rush hour traffic are often neglected.

Last Thursday, Shanghai Daily tried to order a taxi from Weihai Road to Metro Line 2’s Weining Road station around 6pm. After more than five minutes of waiting, the app said “there are no cabs nearby” and suggested choosing more expensive online-hailing cars instead.

The commission said the new rule aims to prevent such cherry-picking behavior.

“Many drivers used to prefer Didi because they can choose the order that is more profitable and neglect passengers on the street,” said a commission official. “The new rule will hopefully bring such behaviour to an end.”

While many passengers welcomed the new rule, opinion among taxi drivers was divided.

A taxi driver surnamed Gu said the new rule wouldn't have much impact on his business as he mostly takes passengers from the street. Gu said there were two different ways for drivers to find passengers via the app.

“One mode is that you passively accept the orders assigned to you by the system, like Uber used to do,” said Gu. “With this you cannot pick the more profitable orders.”

Gu said the driver’s account would be banned by Didi if the driver declined an assigned order more than three times. “It does not matter if the order is more profitable, you just do it.”

What led to cherry-picking was the other way of finding passengers on Didi, Gu said.

“With this mode Didi will show the orders one after another to different drivers simultaneously. It’s the driver’s choice to take the order or let it go by,” said Gu. “The drivers would see the destination of the orders which would influence their decision on whether to accept the order or not.”

Gu said the drivers would simply neglect the orders they were not interested in and focus on the “good ones,” the long-distance ones.

Another taxi driver surnamed Shi said he could not agree more with the new rule. “The good requests were almost impossible for me to get,” he said.

This is because Didi Chuxing has a credit system for drivers so when an order appears on the app and many drivers are trying to get it, drivers with higher credits will win the order.

Credits can be earned by passengers’ five-star comments. But Shi said he is aware that many drivers cheat on the system by finding scalpers to buy good comments in order to increase their credits.

“I think the new rule is not only a good one for the passengers, but also will help those of us who refuse to cheat on the system,” said Shi.

A taxi driver surnamed Yuan said he normally takes orders from Didi according to passengers’ destinations. But since the new rule forbids him to do so, he is considering deleting the app.

Yuan said that if he could not pick the more profitable orders because the destinations are blocked, he would rather quit the app and go back to finding passengers on the street.

“Getting orders from the app has its drawbacks, sometimes the passengers would be 2 kilometers away from you,” said Yuan. “I would have wasted that distance while I going down there to pick up the passengers. Not to mention during rush hour, it could take more than 20 minutes just to find the passenger.”

When it was pointed out that he was cherry-picking passengers, Yuan blamed the system.

He argued that the number of people on street hailing taxis had also reduced as many of them were using Didi to find cabs. “You see we are falling into a vicious circle where the passengers are turning to the app and drivers like me are forced to find customers back on the street.”

“If I do want to cherry-pick, I can call you and ask your destination before picking you up, in that way I can still decline you,” he said.

Didi Chuxing public relations manager Wang Mingze said passengers can report such behaviour and Didi would send the complains to the driver’s taxi firm. “Such bad behavior of the driver will be punished,” said Wang.

The commission said the new rule to block destinations was being introduced in stages. It did not say how long it would be before all drivers were blocked. 

Wang said Didi would cooperate with the commission to gradually block all the drivers’ apps from seeing destinations before accepting requests, but he did not say how gradual that process would be.

Yuan Dongliang, the manager of another online taxi-hailing firm — Dazhong Chuxing — praised the new rules. “The new rules will regress the taxi business to its original form — hailing on the street,” Yuan said.

“I think the authority should apply this rule not only to online taxi hailing business but to all online car-hailings like Uber,” said Ge Lei, the company’s public relations manager.

“Otherwise it is not fair to the taxi drivers.”

However, the commission said that there was no plan to apply the new rule to other car-hailing businesses apart from taxis.

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