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Chinese online ride-hailing drivers at the center of the storm

摘要: How are online ride-hailing drivers affected by public opinions after the second killing of a Didi passenger?

【TMTpost Image seeks to accurately record those individuals in the era of Internet. TMTpost owns the copyright of all images, texts and videos. Any unauthorized use or reproduction of these documents in any form or means is prohibited. Otherwise, TMTpost reserves right to pursue legal responsibilities.】

Didi Chuxing, China’s popular ride-sharing service, has once again been pushed to the cusp of public opinion after the second killing of a female passenger in three months. The company has to suspend its car-pooling service (Didi Hitch) and was asked to have meetings with several local supervisory authorities for rectifications.

As the Stipulations on Tackling Illegal Passenger Transport in Beijing came into effect on July 1, the living conditions of online ride-hailing service providers have aroused public concern. TMTpost recently interviewed several online ride-hailing drivers from Beijing before and after the implementation of the new policy.

In Beijing, a qualified online ride-hailing car must meet the following requirements: the driver's permanent Beijing residence registration, Beijing-registered license plate, online-booking taxi driver license and online-booking taxi permit. Vehicles failing to meet one of the four requirements will be regarded as "illegal online ride-hailing vehicles."

Only few of (mainly from Didi Chuxing) the online ride-hailing drivers TMTpost interviewed in Beijing meet the above four requirements. Since July 1, city traffic administrations have intensified efforts on tackling illegal ride-hailing cars.  

Some drivers revealed that Didi Chuxing had introduced compensation policies such as "reimbursable first fine" for vehicles with consistent driver and certificates. But the policy cannot radically help drivers relieve their worries about the job.

The explosive growth of car sharing over the past five years has driven the emergence of "online ride-hailing driver" job. What changes have happened to the drivers when the new policy was implemented? How do they earn reasonable income under Didi's big data algorithm based order distribution mechanism in the Internet era? How are they affected by the killing of passenger?

Several online ride-hailing drivers shared their stories with TMTpost Online.

At 6:30am on August 28, online ride-hailing driver Zhong Chen is wiping his car near Beijing International Airport. He just finished the first airport drop-off of the day. Zhong is a ride-hailing driver of an online tourism service platform. He is specialized in airport pick-up and drop-off services.

The platform requires drivers to take a photo with their cars and upload the photo on the website after they finish each order for follow-up review.

Zhong uses the inside of his car trunk as "breakfast table." He usually drives here to have breakfast every morning after dropping his first passenger.  

Zhong's breakfast, fruits and drinks are prepared at home.

On the left is Zhong's water bottle. He uses the bottle on the right is to urinate in the car. Zhong is afraid to drink a lot of water because it is very difficult to find a bathroom when driving through the city. "Urinating in the car saves time. All online ride-hailing drivers have bottles for urinating."

45-year-old Zhong came to Beijing 15 years ago.

Before he became an online ride-hailing driver three years ago, Zhong did farm work in his hometown in Northeast China and ran garment business. He had worked for Didi, Uber, Yidao and Dida.

Zhong bought his car for RMB 150,000 three years ago in order to drive for Didi. He spent all his savings and borrowed some money.

"I thought the investment could be returned in one and a half years if I made about hundred thousand RMB a year," he said. He could make up to RMB 500 per day at the very beginning, but his income decreased to RMB 200 or RMB 300 per day three months later.  

In October 2017, Zhong began to take orders on an online tourism platform. The platform's software automatically turns on at 4am and turns off at 4pm. 

He doesn't need to worry about the orders on this platform, which is unlike Didi. In the evenings, he would receive four to seven orders for the next day, which are mostly long-distance airport pickup and drop-off. "My gross revenue is RMB 450 to RMB 650 per day, and I make about RMB 6,000 a month. Besides, I also take orders from Didi and Dida during long time interval between two orders or on my way home after work," Zhong said.  

As a non-Beijing resident, Zhong is unqualified to obtain standard documents for ride-hailing cars at the beginning.

Last October, Zhong's car was impounded by traffic authority at Beijing West Railway Station and got a fine of RMB 11,000, which was finally reimbursed by Didi. When he went to sign for the reimbursement at Didi, another six drivers who were fined for impounded cars were waiting in front of him.

At 3:30am, June 21, the kitchen lights on first in Zhong's rental home located in Niufang Village, 8 kilometers south of Majuqiao Bridge on the South Sixth Ring Road, Beijing. The couple gets up at this time every morning to get ready for work.

This is a public kitchen for several families. "My wife is a good cook and she does most of the cooking. I cook occasionally," Zhong said.

They rent two rooms, and one of them is used as clothes storage for his wife's clothing business in a wholesale market. Zhong leaves home at about 4:30 every morning and comes home at 6pm. His wife leaves for work at about the same time and comes home around 2pm.

The couple's food boxes

Zhong helps his wife drive the van to the street before they leave. They have two vehicles. Zhong drives the black car, and his wife drives the van for clothing business.  

Zhong is ready to pick up the next passenger after dropping the first one.  

The trips Zhong takes last from one to two hours. He has to pinch himself hard when he feels sleepy during driving. Moreover, he needs to be fully alert to car checking because the company he works for doesn't reimburse fines for impounded vehicles like Didi does.

Zhong and some other drivers have a WeChat group for sharing car-checking information. He said he has accumulated a lot of anti-car checking experience. 

"Those radiant guys standing in crowded places such as subway entrances, shopping malls, hospitals, airports and bus stations and looking around, are most likely vehicle inspectors. Some of them even have cameras in hands and look at the drivers." Zhong heard that some Didi drivers were caught in entrapment. He says that perhaps the vehicle inspectors have to do something they don’t' really want to do just in order to finish their tasks and achieve performance target.

None of the drivers Zhong knows meets the standards and has legal certificate. "I would go apply for the certificate when the requirements are relaxed, but I'm not qualified yet." Zhong said he might eventually leave without the formal documents.

Zhong learns from his peers that all ride-hailing drivers make money with grumble. Many drivers have no other skills and can only depend on Didi and other similar platforms to make a living by working more than ten hours a day.

"Some drivers even have daily necessities on the car and make the car a home just to make a little more money. Actually Didi drivers have no loyalty to the platform, they work for those who pay higher," Zhong said.

Early morning on August 23, Didi Prime driver Dahai, who had just finished his work, was in Zhangjiawan, East Sixth Ring Road in Beijing. 

Dahai became a Didi driver in October 2017 with a newly bought car. "I get up at 5 and start working at 6 until 12am. It'd be pretty good if I make RMB 6,000 per month after the deduction of Didi's cut, fuel costs, car finance and depletion. Dahai started to regret four months later as he found it's very hard for a Didi driver to make money, which prompted him to pull out.

Moreover, the worrying vehicle inspection also makes him want to quit.

Dahai was once checked at Beijing West Railway Station prior to the 2018 Spring Festival. "It was a 6-kilometer trip," Dahai recalled. "When we almost arrived at the departure level of the station, the passenger suddenly asked me 'Do you know they check taxis in the railway station?' I smelled something bad. As soon as I stopped the car, the passenger left right away and three under covered vehicle inspectors rushed into my car and showed their ID and took away my phone."

Dahai believes that must be an entrapment. 

"Passengers are always interrogated in vehicle inspections and asked to show their phones to the inspectors. But that passenger just left quickly and no one stopped him." Dahai's car was impounded for five days before he paid a fine of RMB 11,000 and then drove it back from a parking lot on the West Fourth Ring Road.

Two months later, Didi had the fine reimbursed. Dahai couldn't figure out why drivers are inspected rather than Didi, since he has all standard documents required by Didi. "It's unfair. If I were illegal, why did Didi let me register and send me orders? Then the platform must be illegal," Dahai said. "Put it simply, the requirements on Didi drivers are low. I will find my way out if I'm not permitted to drive.

Dahai showed us Didi's reward policy for morning rush hours. From 6am to 11am, drivers who complete 7 trips within the Sixth Ring Road in Beijing can receive a reward of RMB 25; an extra RMB 55 will be added if 8 trips are completed during this time.

Didi offers rewards by full day (within 24 hours), morning rush hours (6:00 to 11:00), midday rush hours (11:30 to 16:00), evening rush hours (16:00 to 20:00) and night rush hours (21:00 to 24:00). The starting number of trips for full day reward is 27, and the starting number of trips for rewarding the other four time periods is from 5 to 8, with the reward amount ranging from RMB 25 to RMB 45.  

Didi often adjusts the reward rules according to different situations. Dahai said the location of trips is another important reason restricting the rewards. Trips within the Sixth Ring Road during morning rush hours can be rewarded, while trips in other four time periods must be within the Fifth Ring Road for rewarding.  

Dahai says it's difficult to receive rewards mainly because of Didi's backstage setup. For example, drivers are rewarded RMB 25 for 7 trips within the Sixth Ring Road from 6:00 to 11:00, and can receive a reward of RMB 80 if they finish 8 trips in the same period, but most of the time drivers cannot do 8 trips.

"The platform normally won't send us new orders after we complete 7 trips by 10:30, so we have to wait around in the last 30 minutes before 11:00, even if we park in busy areas with the most car booking. However, as soon as it passes 11:00, the platform sends orders immediately. I have experienced this for countless times, and this is often complained in our group chat," Dahai told TMTpost.

Most of the time Dahai can only receive the starting reward for morning rush hours and full day reward, totaling about RMB 100. It'd be lucky to receive a reward of RMB 200 a week. He knows some young drivers have daily necessities in the car. They sleep in their cars and continue to drive after wake up. "They can make RMB 1,000 a day including rewards, but that's because they are young. I'm too old to handle that," Dahai said.    

"All Didi drivers aim to win the rewards, otherwise we would be working for nothing," Dahai thinks the rewards are actually Didi's methods to make drivers work more, "it seems you can get the rewards but actually it's unlikely. So you have to keep working hard in order to get more rewards and make more money."

An early morning in Tongzhou District in Beijing, Didi Driver Awei is waiting for orders.

Two years ago, Awei began to drive Didi Kuaiche (or Didi Express) with a rental car. He pays a monthly rent of RMB 4,600. Vehicle inspection is a big worry for Awei. "I'm afraid to go to the airport and railway stations, as well as some busy areas such Xidan and the World Trade Center," he said.

Awei's car was impounded twice at Beijing West Railway Station and Xidan Joy City and was fined RMB 22,000 in total. Although the car rental company paid the money before Didi reimbursed it, Dawei suffered a big loss because he had to pay the full rent even the car was impounded.

At the beginning, Awei made about RMB 9,000 per month, but his income has been far less than before in recent months. "I'd be lucky to make RMB 6,000 to RMB 7,000 a month," he said. Awei thinks Didi's share is too high. For instance, the flag-down fare is RMB 13, the driver takes RMB 10.5 and the remaining about 20% is Didi's cut. 

"Since Didi gets a big cut, they should take care of drivers' certificates rather than let them worry about vehicle inspection when driving," Awei said. After all, fine reimbursement is not a long-term solution for a big company.

1:00am, Didi driver Aming parks his car on the roadside waiting for orders.

Aming works from 12am to 12pm. His working time totals 8 hours except for shifting duty, taking break, eating meals, refueling and using bathroom. He makes about RMB 6,000 per month. After the Didi Hitch driver's killing of a passenger in Wenzhou, Aming's work is affected. "The orders are clearly less today. I used to receive orders before I left home, but I haven't received any in 20 minutes after I left home today."

Aming has been a Didi driver for less than one month. He admits his driving experience fails to meet Didi Kuaiche's requirements, so he's using his coworker's account in a car rental company. 

Aming used to work in a hotel, company HR department and even did money-losing business. He finds it's relatively free to be a Didi driver but they are "exploited" too much. "Didi cuts 20% and the car rental company also needs to be paid, plus fuel costs and various labor costs, and that I can barely get any rewards during my working time," Awei said. He plans to work for at least a while and try to find another job. Being an "illegal" Didi drive is expedient.

【TMTpost Image seeks to accurately record individuals in the Internet start-up tide. The images are real but cannot tell all. The images are free but also can be a trap. In the era of "online," let's discover more……】

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This article is edited by @Yi LIU.The original  Chinese version article is published with authorization from the author @Zack Chen. Please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.

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