Hitchhiking apps gaining popularity, but safety required

By Chen Zeling Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/19 18:13:39

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Last week I hitchhiked from my school to my hometown. Not by sticking out my thumb and standing on the side of a road, like traditional hitchers, but by using a new hitchhiking app on my phone, the latest marvel of Chinese tech.

It was not my first experience using this app to find a driver willing to give me a lift, but it was without doubt an impressive one. The driver was, fortunately for me, a very nice man who took delight in sharing his stories with me during our two-hour journey.

A host of new hitchhiking apps intended primarily for long-distance journeys have emerged in China in recent years. On a typical hitchhiking platform, both drivers and passengers announce their departure place, date and destination. The app then automatically matches the information. Depending on where you want to go, you may find a ride under 10 minutes.

There are numerous advantages about hitchhiking. The best thing is of course the price. Although not totally free like real hitchhiking is supposed to be, and more expensive than public transportation, it is still more affordable and more convenient than other driver-hailing apps.

Sharing a ride also allows drivers to save money by sharing the cost of gas. But the real benefit is simply having someone to chat with during a long ride, and also the chance of making a new friend who also comes from your hometown.

It is a great opportunity to get more intimately connected with your community, as in this day and age technology seems to be separating and isolating us. One driver I traveled with asked me to chat with him strictly in our hometown dialect rather than Putonghua. Difficult as it was for me after not using it for such a long time, I found it a real pleasure.

Apart from the convenience and emotional connection, hitchhiking apps also help China's environment by significantly reducing the number of cars on our roads. In 2016, the General Office of the State Council said "sharing rides in private cars can solve traffic congestion and reduce air pollution. The city government should encourage as well as regulate its development."

Indeed, in the past, my parents had to come all the way to Shanghai to pick me up from school whenever I wanted to visit home, drive me there then back to school again. Now there is at least one less car on the road.

Sadly, hitchhiking apps have some downsides that cannot be overlooked. A few months ago, a woman in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province was killed in a car accident involving a driver she found on the hitching app. Neither drivers' insurance companies were willing to assume the responsibility of her death since their policies did not cover passengers. The hitchhiking app company itself only agreed to pay for her funeral expenses.

Personal safety is also a concern, especially for young women such as myself. There has always been a high degree of risk when hitching from the side of the road. Many Hollywood horror movies are specifically about female hitchhikers being raped and killed by psychopathic drivers. China usually doesn't have this problem, but some drivers using the new hitchhiking app are not entirely honest; one driver I met was not using the car shown on his profile, which made me nervous during our trip.

Obviously, more regulations are needed in China's fledgling hitchhiking app market. The fact that no driver can be held responsible for car accidents, and that passengers still must rely wholly on trust when getting into a stranger's car, will cause many future incidents until the government implements some safety regulations that protect passengers.

In the end, hitchhiking apps will be a great thing for China, which is suffering from traffic congestion and high levels of air pollution due to the vast numbers of new cars on the roads. And while accepting a ride from a stranger is never entirely safe, with some help from the government, perhaps such ride-sharing apps will eventually become the preferred method of land travel in China rather than just an alternative.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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