Count­ing on pro­fes­sion­al­ism

Shang­hai Dazhong Trans­porta­tion Group is ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing qual­ity ser­vice in­stead of slash­ing their rates amid the price war

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ZHOU WENTING in Shang­hai

zhouwent­ing@chi­nadaily. com.cn

Yuan Dongliang may work for Shang­hai Dazhong Trans­porta­tion Group, one of China’s largest and most rep­utable taxi com­pa­nies, but he’s no stranger to get­ting a pri­vate car via one of the ride­hail­ing apps avail­able in the country.

Hav­ing made nu­mer­ous trips around the city in pri­vate cars, he be­lieves that while such rides are of­ten cheaper, many pri­vate driv­ers of­ten dis­play a clear lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. One of the big­gest prob­lems is not know­ing the roads well enough, which could then re­sult in much in­con­ve­nience for cus­tomers.

“We are fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent from the rest. We pay close at­ten­tion to things such as cus­tomer com­plaints, ac­ci­dent rates, and whether the ac­tual in­come of the driv­ers can sup­port them. In con­trast, ride-hail­ing plat­forms mainly fo­cus on the num­ber of new and ac­tive users,” said Yuan, gen­eral man­ager of Dazhong Go In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd, a newly-es­tab­lished branch of Shang­hai Dazhong Trans­porta­tion Group.

De­spite the draw­backs as­so­ci­ated with hir­ing pri­vate cars, rid­ing-hail­ing apps have en­joyed im­mense pop­u­lar­ity. Through­out China, a to­tal of 300 mil­lion pas­sen­gers and 10 mil­lion driv­ers used ride­hail­ing apps in 2015, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased in Jan­uary by the me­dia re­search cen­ter un­der Alibaba and CBN Data, a busi­ness data re­search cen­ter at­tached to fi­nan­cial news out­let China Busi­ness Net­work.

Last year, nearly 3,000 taxis out of the 51,100 in Shang­hai were not in ser­vice, and in most cases it was be­cause the driv­ers of th­ese ve­hi­cles de­cided to work for ride-hail­ing plat­forms.

Com­pe­ti­tion in the ride­hail­ing in­dus­try in­ten­si­fied in 2013 when Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, backed by In­ter­net gi­ants Alibaba Group Hold­ing Ltd and Ten­cent Hold­ings re­spec­tively, fought for mar­ket share by pro­vid­ing huge sub­si­dies for pas­sen­gers and driv­ers. San Fran­cisco-based Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc en­tered the fray shortly af­ter and adopted the same strat­egy.

“We un­der­stand the dilemma our driv­ers face. While it is against the law to drive an un­li­censed cab, they do earn more in­come,” said Yuan.

“But sub­si­dies are just a short-term tac­tic used to gain cus­tomers and will not be handed out for­ever. We be­lieve the mar­ket will soon re­turn to nor­mal and now is just the be­gin­ning.”

In re­sponse, Dazhong Trans­porta­tion Group launched its own taxi-book­ing app in 2013. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Yuan, the app did not achieve much suc­cess be­cause of slow re­sponse times — it re­lied on hu­man op­er­a­tors to dis­patch taxis — and user in­ter­face prob­lems.

In 2014, as part of ef­forts to lure cus­tomers back, the com­pany pro­vided com­pli­men­tary WiFi in al­most all its taxis.

Ear­lier this year on March 30, the com­pany upped the ante and be­came the first tra­di­tional taxi busi­ness to launch a car-hail­ing app that is sim­i­lar to its com­peti­tors, al­low­ing users to hire cars with li­censed driv­ers in­stead of reg­u­lar taxis.

There are cur­rently 500 li­censed ve­hi­cles in this fleet and they vary from mid-range types such as a Volk­swa­gen Passat to high-end ones like a Mercedez-Benz. Th­ese cars all carry car plates that start with “HuA.M”. The start­ing price for Dazhong Go ve­hi­cles range from 18 to 23 yuan ($3.55). An­other 700 of th­ese cars are the big­gest was how cus­tomers and driv­ers have be­come so ac­cus­tomed to us­ing such apps. An­other fac­tor is the in­ten­si­fy­ing clam­p­down on pri­vate driv­ers. From De­cem­ber 2015 to Fe­bru­ary this year, a to­tal of 1,949 pri­vate car driv­ers in Shang­hai were slapped with driv­ing sus­pen­sions of be­tween three and six months.

Else­where in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince, the trans­porta­tion au­thor­ity shut down on­line ride-hail­ing ser­vices for hun­dreds of pri­vate driv­ers in March af­ter they were found to ei­ther have taken drugs or had crim­i­nal records be­fore they worked with those com­pa­nies.

Yuan, who has been with the com­pany for 16 years, was keen to stress on the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of Dazhong Go’s ser­vices. For in­stance, all driv­ers with Dazhong Go are re­quired to com­plete a com­pul­sory week­long train­ing course be­fore they are al­lowed on the roads.

The com­pre­hen­sive train­ing ses­sions cover rel­e­vant laws and reg­u­la­tions, eti­quette and dress codes, safe driv­ing tech­niques and helps fa­mil­iar­ize driv­ers with the city’s roads. Fur­ther­more, ev­ery pas­sen­ger in a Dazhong taxi is cov­ered by ac­ci­dent in­surance, up to a max­i­mum of 1.5 mil­lion yuan.

“We’ll give driv­ers in­struc­tions on how to drive safely dur­ing stormy or foggy days and on roads where mo­tor ve­hi­cles and non-mo­tor ones share a lane. We also teach our driv­ers how to han­dle road ac­ci­dents where peo­ple are in­jured or where the ve­hi­cle is dam­aged, and how to man­age dif­fi­cult cus­tomers,” Yuan said.

“The taxi in­dus­try is one that re­quires pro­fes­sion­al­ism. All the com­peti­tors will even­tu­ally fo­cus on man­age­ment and ser­vice, with­out which there will be a chaotic mar­ket.”

With re­gard to whether tra­di­tional taxis will ever be­come ob­so­lete, Yuan said that it is im­pos­si­ble for pri­vate cars to take over the mar­ket. “Af­ter a large-scale ex­hi­bi­tion or con­cert, would it be pos­si­ble for every­body to hail a car via ride-hail­ing apps? How are they go­ing to iden­tify their ride when 5,000 ve­hi­cles flock to them?” he said.

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

Yuan Dongliang, gen­eral man­ager of Dazhong Go In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd, be­lieves that the pri­vate cars can never take over the taxi in­dus­try.

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