Uber more than trans­porta­tion to some

The popular car ser­vice is be­ing used in odd ways as it faces in­ves­ti­ga­tion in China, Fan feifei re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Twenty-nine-year-old Momo Zhao of Bei­jing sat in a car with a driver she did not know. The driver, who worked for the Uber car ser­vice net­work, soon be­gan to pros­e­ly­tize. “Girl, do you be­lieve in Je­sus?” said the driver. “Do you know Je­sus?”

Ges­tur­ing to a wooden cross hang­ing on the rearview mir­ror, the Uber driver told Zhao she had landed in “a gospel car.” That was not what Zhao ex­pected when she launched the car-call­ing app mo­ments ear­lier to sum­mon the Audi A4 she now sat in.

“The driver was like an aunt and more than 60 years old. We chat­ted for a while and then she be­gan to ask me th­ese ques­tions. I was very sur­prised.”

Zhao’s ex­pe­ri­ence is but one ex­am­ple of how peo­ple are us­ing Uber, a San Fran­cisco-based tech­nol­ogy startup that con­nects rid­ers with vet­ted pri­vate driv­ers at a va­ri­ety of prices.

In China, the car ser­vice is no longer ex­clu­sively to get would-be pas­sen­gers from one part of town to the next. Peo­ple are us­ing it in all sorts of un­con­ven­tional ways. Hop into a Uber ve­hi­cle and a rider may hear a driver push his or her re­li­gious be­liefs or a re­al­tor at­tempt to sell them a house.

An em­ployer might use Uber to in­ter­view a po­ten­tial new hire. And of course, sex some­how al­ways man­ages to en­ter the pic­ture. There are rid­ers, for in­stance, who turn to Uber in their quest for sex­ual part­ners.

Uber cus­tomers are us­ing the ser­vice much like China’s smash-hit flirt­ing app Momo, with its ap­prox­i­mately 180 mil­lion users.

“Mr Li”, who owns two cars, be­came an Uber driver sev­eral months ago, and prefers to re­main anony­mous. He is the head of an In­ter­net startup in Bei­jing. At about 12 pm, he drives to Zhong­guan­cun, China’s Sil­i­con Val­ley, to pick up cus­tomers, most of whom are tech­ni­cians work­ing over­time. Af­ter he picked up six cus­tomers, he hired one of them for his com­pany — as a tech­ni­cal direc­tor — fol­low­ing an in­ter­view in the car.

He boasts he also picks up beau­ti­ful girls at night­clubs on week­ends, chat­ting with them and ask­ing for their num­bers.

Mean­while in Shang­hai, well­heeled women are ap­ply­ing to be­come Uber driv­ers in hopes of meet­ing their Mr Right.

This func­tion has chal­lenged app Momo, which al­lows users to connect with oth­ers based on their prox­im­ity to each other, the idea be­ing that you can find peo­ple who are in the same pub, club and party.

Real es­tate com­pa­nies have not been left be­hind in the Uber revo­lu­tion. They also make use of Uber to sell houses. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from Ur­ban Ex­press, a Hangzhoubased daily, a girl named “oy­a­sumi” from Hangzhou, the cap­i­tal city of Zhe­jiang prov­ince, bought a new house af­ter talk­ing with an Uber driver. She said on her WeChat, the on­line mes­sag­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, that one morn­ing she took a Peo­ple’s Uber to go to work and then learned the driver was a se­nior manager of a real es­tate com­pany. She hap­pened to be look­ing to buy a house and the driver rec­om­mended a house and even gave her a big dis­count.

The re­port said this mat­ter might be linked to Zhe­jiang-based Green­town, a prop­erty de­vel­oper, which ar­ranged for 52 of its se­nior man­agers to par­tic­i­pate in a three-day Uber driv­ing pro­gram to sell prop­er­ties to peo­ple us­ing the car ser­vice.

China is not alone in the un­con­ven­tional use of Uber. In the United States, Uber is used as well for com­mer­cial, busi­ness and so­cial con­tacts. In Sil­i­con Val­ley, for in­stance, Uber pro­vides a ser­vice that con­nects po­ten­tial in­vestors with en­trepreneurs. When a would-be busi­nessper­son calls a car, a Google Ven­tures rep­re­sen­ta­tive will be in the car. The driver, who is also the po­ten­tial in­vestor, will al­low seven min­utes for the “pas­sen­ger” to make a pitch, and then spend seven min­utes giv­ing the per­son feed­back. Fi­nally, the in­di­vid­ual who just made the pitch will be driven home free of charge.

“As a startup, Uber’s rapid ex­pan­sion and huge amount of fi­nanc­ing ex­cite the nerves of en­trepreneurs and in­vestors end­lessly,” said Xu Kang­ming, a trans­porta­tion ex­pert. “Uber is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of the ‘shar­ing econ­omy’, which is boom­ing around the world.”

Xu added that based on his ob­ser­va­tion, the rea­son Uber can gen­er­ate dif­fer­ent kinds of ser­vices lies in putting users’ ex­pe­ri­ence first.

“Uber doesn’t call it­self a car-sum­mon­ing com­pany, but a tech­nol­ogy com­pany,” Xu said.

Yu Shan, who be­came an Uber driver in Bei­jing three weeks ago, told China Daily: “Uber has pow­er­ful in­cen­tives for driv­ers com­pared with other car-call­ing providers. The driver can be awarded two to three times the money than he or she ac­tu­ally earned dur­ing peak hours. They can be awarded 7,000 yuan ($1,128) at a time af­ter hav­ing fin­ished 70 deals each week.”

He added: “I learned that driv­ers use Uber for dif­fer­ent pur­poses, such as hir­ing em­ploy­ees and mak­ing friends, but the num­ber is few. In my view, cus­tomers mainly choose Uber be­cause its ser­vice is less ex­pen­sive and it solves trans­porta­tion prob­lems.”

Song Chun­mei, 54, a doc­tor work­ing at the cen­tral hos­pi­tal in Yuncheng, Shanxi prov­ince, said it is ac­cept­able that peo­ple use Uber for so­cial con­tact pur­poses.

“If the cus­tomer does have a need to buy a house or to find a new job, and the Uber driver can of­fer them such op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­deed, why not?”

She added that the ac­tiv­ity is on a vol­un­tary ba­sis, pro­vid­ing much con­ve­nience and sav­ing time and money for cus­tomers.

How­ever, Uber’s devel­op­ment in China isn’t undis­puted. In April and May, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gated Uber’s Guangzhou and Chengdu of­fices, which were un­der sus­pi­cion of il­le­gal op­er­a­tions, namely or­ga­niz­ing pri­vate cars that did not pos­sess the proper op­er­at­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions to be en­gaged in busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties.

On Jan 8, China’s Min­istry of Trans­port an­nounced that ev­ery cab­hail­ing app com­pany should abide by trans­porta­tion mar­ket rules and ban pri­vate cars from op­er­at­ing on their plat­form, even though the min­istry saw a “pos­i­tive role” for apps that work with li­censed op­er­a­tors in serv­ing dif­fer­ent trans­porta­tion mar­kets. But Uber’s op­er­a­tion was not im­pacted much by the new reg­u­la­tions in China.

Uber’s safety is­sue also has been of con­cern and its ser­vices have been banned in some other coun­tries. In­dia’s tele­com min­istry on May 16 or­dered net­work ser­vice providers to block car-call­ing app com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Uber and the do­mes­tic Ola Cabs.

Last De­cem­ber, an In­dian woman ac­cused an Uber driver of rape and then the New Deli gov­ern­ment de­creed that Uber and its lo­cal com­peti­tors were for­bid­den to do busi­ness.

How­ever, the prohibition were not ef­fec­tively im­ple­mented, and th­ese com­pa­nies have con­tin­ued to op­er­ate as usual, even launch­ing a kind of new ser­vice, UberAuto, to call mo­tor­ized rick­shaws, a popular ve­hi­cle among the mid­dle class in In­dia.

Uber’s ser­vice has once been warned or halted in the United King­dom, South Korea, Spain and the Nether­lands.

Zhang Rui, an eco­nomics pro­fes­sor and mem­ber of the China Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, said Uber’s ex­pan­sion in China and the whole world re­flected the con­tra­dic­tion and con­flict be­tween In­ter­net tech­nol­ogy and tra­di­tional reg­u­la­tions, in­no­va­tion and su­per­vi­sion. As for Uber, he said the gov­ern­ment should make changes and fo­cus on “how to reg­u­late it”. Con­tact the writer at fan­feifei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Uber, a car ser­vice

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