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Taxicab Depressions in Hangzhou?
Published:2014-07-14 11:44:08

Taxicab Depressions                                                                                                   By Kevin Reitz

Lately, there’s been something odd going on with the taxis in Hangzhou. One Saturday morning in March, on a particularly nice day, I’m out looking for a taxi at my usual spot. Sometimes it can be difficult there, but I rarely wait more than 10 minutes. This time however, 30 minutes go by and nothing. The crowd of would-be passengers grows ever larger until it gets pretty cutthroat vying for options. Eventually a taxi that already has a passenger rolls up and asks me where I am going. I give him the vague general direction of East, and I get waved on in. I instantly become the envy of ten other frustrated people. 

The next day, also beautiful, my wife and I are searching for a cab on Wenyi Road, near the Wu Mart. This area is bustling with activity, so we figure it will be no problem. We spend over an hour trying to get a taxi, and eventually an unlicensed taxi , or heiche (lit. black car) picks us up, because there is no other option. The discussion we had with that driver, let us call him Doug, makes up the bulk of this month’s High Five. Use this knowledge and good luck. The taxi culture is changing here. 

Weather or Not 
One factor in the recent taxi-hailing difficulty is the onset of spring. Hangzhou gets its first taste of incredible weather and 3 million people all go outside at the same time. There are just not enough taxis those particular days. Doug does not spend all his days driving around picking up random passengers, but when the demand is there, out he goes. He knew the weather was going to create demand. It makes sense in a way, but I sense there is a deeper issue here. As I suspect, a little extra prodding reveals the true problem. 

Stupid Smartphones 
With the rise in popularity of smartphone apps like kuai di da che (快的打车) and di di da che (嘀嘀打车), taxi drivers can be more selective about which passengers they take when the demand is high. You are going to see more and more taxis driving empty, but with their pause sign flipped on. These taxis are on their way to meet a passenger they have already agreed to take. Sometimes, they will forget to turn the sign to pause and it will appear as though they are for hire. Bewildered passengers get more frustrated as open taxis appear to pass them by for no apparent reason. 

Get Smart 
If you can’t beat them, join them. Get these apps downloaded to your smartphone and figure out how to use them. They are all in Chinese, but with a little effort and help from a friend, you can operate it like a pro in no time. One important feature that is changing the landscape of taxi-riding is the addition of 5RMB to the fare. In these apps, there’s an option to add additional money to the final fare price. This is a huge incentive for the driver to go out of his way to pick you up. It essentially makes the base taxi fare 16RMB, and Doug loves this. It makes his slightly more expensive heiche fare seem more reasonable by comparison. 

Sharing is Caring 
Another feature of this app is the option to share a taxi with another passenger. This means the driver can search for people on his route and take two or three fares at the same time. In general, they will only pick you up if it is not out of the way. But there are a few obvious benefits to sharing a taxi with other passengers. First, if it means any taxi you see is a potential ride for you, it’s not just the green light anymore. This is huge when you are late and frustrated. In addition, the final fare is generally slightly cheaper than if you had just taken a taxi by yourself. I have had very good luck with this. 
Many times, you will see taxis slow down to ask people where they are going, and they get rejected because it’s not the right direction. Try to be as flexible as possible, even if it means having to walk a block to your destination. You also have to be pretty quick when telling the driver your destination, or they will just drive on by. To turn on this ride-sharing option when using 快的打车, look for 是否愿意拼车 before requesting a taxi and flip that option to green 愿拼车. 

Then Again... 
... you could always just walk, take a bus, or bike. The thing is we had other ways to get to where we were going. There was a bus stop two blocks away that went exactly where we needed to go. But the time we had already sunk into waiting for a taxi kept us trying. You get the feeling that that next batch of cars is definitely going to be the one. Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses, hoof it, and go get the next bus, especially when the weather is so nice.


from morehanghou.com


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