Beijing car-sharers feel driven out

By Chu Daye Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/12 22:18:39

New city rules would make most of them ineligible

Didi Zhuanche drivers in Beijing told the Global Times that their lives will be drastically changed by the city's draft rules on car-hailing services, which is seeking public input, but they also expressed worries over the fate of Didi Chuxing and raised the question of how the nascent market should be regulated and preserved.

Photo: CFP

Lu Yedong, 32, lives and works near a university on the northern rim of Beijing.

He and his wife left their child in his hometown, Langfang, in North China's Hebei Province on the border with the country's capital.

Lu's wife is a waitress in a restaurant near the university, earning 3,000 yuan ($446) to 5,000 yuan a month. Lu, with a Volkswagen Passat sedan and a Beijing license plate, works on the Didi Zhuanche online car-hailing platform, a service operated by Internet firm Didi Chuxing that enables private car owners to accept fares for driving passengers around.

"I end up with about 10,000 yuan each month in net income, making me the breadwinner of the family," Lu told the Global Times on Monday.

After two years, Lu said, he was able to recoup the investment on his Passat, which is priced at around 200,000 yuan.

Lu, who once operated a restaurant, said that driving on Zhuanche is the most ideal job for him and the best he can get in the services industry.

"Chinese like to say 360 walks of life, and I have tried all of them and failed at each; so far, this is my best shot," Lu said.

"But you know what, our life will be totally changed with November 1 approaching," Lu noted.

Nice job at an end

China became the first major country in the world to legalize online car-booking services nationwide, after seven government ministries led by the Ministry of Transport jointly issued a regulation in July, to be enforced in November.

Back then, major industry players such as online car-hailing platform Didi Chuxing and US-based Uber hailed the new regulation as a milestone in the industry.

But the national regulation left it up to local authorities to impose eligibility requirements on services providers.

When Beijing's draft regulations were published Saturday, soliciting public opinions, many said that a vast majority of drivers or vehicles will become ineligible.

The municipal government said that its new regulations are partly aimed at alleviating traffic jams that plague the capital.

The authority requires Zhuanche service to be offered by Beijing-registered vehicles and residents.

Lu's car, though relatively new, is just a little older than the two-year maximum stipulated in the new Beijing rules.

Moreover, Lu does not have a Beijing hukou, or household registration. All told, he will be ineligible to drive for the platform.

"I have no plans for what to do after November 1, to be frank," Lu said. "There are still a number of days left, and I don't seriously believe the government will really implement such a policy."

"What is Beijing if it cannot be a good place for us little guys to make good money? I have no attachments to the city and will leave it without regret," Lu said.

Wang, a 35-year-old who drives his Honda Accord sedan with Zhuanche, told the Global Times on Monday that he "will wait and see whether Didi will do that to us."

Unlike Lu, who pushed himself hard and stayed out for as long as 12 hours a day, Wang chose to work only several hours a day.

Wang, who only gave his surname, is a native of Zhangjiakou, a city in Hebei and 200 kilometers away from Beijing. He lacks a Beijing hukou.

Wang is polite in language, and the ride he offered was something near a "clean shirt, white glove" business-style service.

"We drivers don't have to do anything when that date falls upon us," Wang said.

"Didi has all our information stored in its system, such as our personal information and our cars' status and specifications," Wang said.

"If Didi wants to fully implement the local governments' regulation, then I guess we will be automatically phased out after November 1."

When asked to comment on plans, a public relations manager at Didi Chuxing said, "I would refrain from replying to you for the moment."

The worry is also theirs

"Of course I'm worried, but I'm sure Didi is many times more worried than we are," Wang said. "Their business model is in peril."

Wang said that in his online networks, only one in 10 drivers is a Beijing native.

If they all go, Wang said, then for the platform, that "kills the demand."

He explained that with one-tenth of vehicles ready to pick up, customers will have to wait much longer and then probably will shift to other forms of transportation.

"It is not just like what Didi said that the price will soar, it will be more than that: The market will evaporate. And think about the billions of dollars they have burned to cultivate the market," Wang said.

Lu was also perplexed.

"I mean, it is totally implausible. The business model of Didi, as we know it, will be gone if they really enforce this," Lu said.

"They now draw a few lines that will ax most of its drivers. Why judge where we come from, when they can judge who we are?" Lu said.

He suggested that the government could set a maximum number of cars eligible for the Zhuanche service and let all those who want to do the job compete on a merit basis.

It seems that an oversimplified and crude policy is preferred over a more calculated, flexible approach of governance, Lu said.

Liberating labor

Both Lu and Wang said that driving with Zhuanche gives them a degree of autonomy that amounts to something like running their own businesses.

Prior to the work at Didi, Wang was a clerk at a private car rental company.

"It was pure capitalist style there, with my boss ordering me around like a house servant, me buried in paperwork, routinely working unpaid overtime, and I was paid 5,000 to 6,000 yuan a month," Wang said.

"Now I earn roughly the same amount of money, but a free man I become. Seriously, for those of us with low education and low skill set who have tried Didi, there is no way of going back to our old lives, such as working as a sit-in driver for a company," Wang said.

"We have passed the point of no return."

According to Didi, there are about  15 million Zhuanche drivers in the country.

Wang predicted that if Didi Zhuanche business collapses, its drivers will probably find other platforms to offer their labor and cars.

"There are companies who hire drivers with sedans to run airport pick-ups; it is sort of a partnership. And I also believe the fall of Didi will leave a market vacuum for car-rental companies. Gosh, it would be a good business for them," Wang said.

Unlike Lu and Wang, Yu Lei supports the policy. In fact, the 30-something driver from Beijing will not be affected.

"I totally support the measures to ban non-Beijing cars and under-specification cars. A 40,000 yuan low-end car running around Beijing will only add to the city's traffic and environmental woes," Yu said.

"However, maybe the government go a little bit too far to ban non-Beijing residents from providing service," Yu said.

On Wednesday, faced with complaints that the draft regulations are too rigid, Premier Li Keqiang said that he will instruct relevant cities to study the matter,according to domestic media reports.

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