Ride-Sharing Catching On in China
Feb. 5, 2016
Some travelers in China have found a way to make their journeys cheaper and with less hassle ahead of the Lunar New Year festivities. Crowds were already overwhelming transportation systems on Friday, as people rushed to their hometowns to celebrate. An estimated 3 billion trips are expected around the holiday.
A few days before the Lunar New Year arrived on Feb. 8, Beijing's central railway station was packed with people lining up. But the tickets sold out fast and some were forced to give up.
Flights and long-distance buses from the major cities were also fully booked.
As millions of people move through the country, ride-sharing posters caught people's attention. It’s something that’s gaining in popularity, especially for those who might otherwise have to abandon spending the holiday with family.
One company started a ride-share service two years ago. It provides a phone app that allows you to connect with drivers and others who want to share a ride.
The service is free. You only pay your portion of the traveling costs. Seven million car owners are registered with the service. About one million people have already signed up for rides for the coming holiday season.
The company generates income from advertisers. And it has branched out to 300 locations across the country, serving a rising number of users.
Yang Zhonglin is from the southern province of Guizhou. He works in the finance industry in Beijing.
His wife also works full-time, so they have left their one-year old child in the care of his parents, 2,000 km away.
A high-speed rail service opened last year, connecting Beijing to Guizhou. But the fare is much too high for their budget.
The couple used the ride-share app and met Lu Tingkun, who's heading to the same town. The cost of traveling together is less than half what they would normally spend.
It takes a full day of driving from Beijing to reach their hometown. They gradually get to know each other better during the drive.
"I've returned home four years in a row now by carpool,” Lu says. “And I got to know other people in town this way."
The owners of the ride-share company say they expect business to expand even more.
"Our mission is to make the painful trip home a comfortable experience,” says Song Zhongjie, CEO of Didapinche. “We believe the demand is huge."
With so many making the long trip home at this time of year, it seems the company is assured of a growing market for their service.
NHK World reporter Hiroki Yajima spoke to anchors Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya from Beijing.
Shibuya: So Hiroki, the people seemed happy to be going home with others from the same town. Do you think that's a reason for the popularity of the service?
Yajima: I think so. It seems like carpooling is a way to make connections. That's an important part of society here. One manager said there are customers who've even found business opportunities through the people they rode with. But I should point out that the company just matches car owners with users. They need to work out the fees and things like insurance among themselves. Otherwise, if for example there's trouble like a car accident, then it could become a legal issue for car owners and users.
Beppu: So, all these people are going home but I assume there must be some who still can't go back, even with this new service.
Yajima: Exactly. Some people don't have the money. I met a woman working in Beijing, who was from a rural area. She earns triple her salary over the New Year, so saves her money instead of going home. She hasn't been back for two years. I met another person working as a cook. He went home for the first time in seven years. He was telling me how tough life is for migrants in Beijing.
"I've been working here to earn more money. My wife is sick, so sometimes we talk on the phone, but I haven't been able to go home because of my work. I can't go at will when she needs me. All I can do is say something to try to make her feel better. It's hard."
Yang Xianping / Cook
Chinese New Year is a time when the income gap becomes even more visible. The government is responding by trying to create jobs and business in rural areas so that the country as a whole can reach a balance with its economic growth.