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Taxi apps uproar highlights artificially low cab fares

(Shanghai Daily)

08:31, June 04, 2013

This week's edition of Shanghai Street View literally takes us to the street, as I look at the recent explosion of taxi apps that have cropped up in the city's cabs and the backlash it's created. I particularly like this story because it represents the collision of technology with two very Chinese elements, namely the concepts of backdoors (hou men) and state-set prices that are often low.

Taxi apps have been creeping up on most of us for the better part of the last year, as a steady flow of entrepreneurial companies rolled out myriad software aimed at helping people to call cabs from their smartphones or computers.

The story careened into the headlines several weeks ago when one particular photo emerged of a cabbie with one of the busiest dashboards I've ever seen.

The photo showed not one, but three or four smartphones and tablet PCs mounted on the cabbie's dashboard and windshield, allowing him to find nearby passengers from different apps at almost any given time.

The idea was simple but also quietly brilliant, as it significantly boosted the cabbie's efficiency by letting him drive from one customer to the next without driving around aimlessly wasting time and fuel in between trips.

Of course, the only problem was the small matter of safety, as numerous netizens and others who saw the photo pointed out that so many devices would ultimately distract the cabbies and could potentially lead to accidents.

I'm generally not afraid to ride in most of Shanghai's cabs, even when drivers often do crazy things like make U-turns on busy streets and change lanes five times in just a few seconds, just to run a traffic light that's just turned red.

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