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Carpool apps provide practical solutions for daily-life problems

By Liu Weifeng (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-16 07:43

When I tell my family, friends and colleagues that I'm using carpool apps to commute between office and home, they seem shocked and remind me to beware of bad guys.

Getting into a stranger's car, or giving a lift to a stranger, is odd and risky behavior in their eyes. It seems we don't have a culture that accepts and trusts strangers.

However, those who have been using the apps in recent months, even once, are likely to embrace the new way and use it frequently. By my observation, age is one factor in divergent attitudes: the younger, the more open to new ideas.

I've become an enthusiastic user after the pleasant experiences of a manicure and a house cleaning, both set up via the online-to-offline apps, also known as O2O.

My first experience using a carpool app took place a month ago after I had dinner in Sanlitun. Purely out of curiosity, I was on 51yongche and clicked a request that had a similarity with my route home.

One minute later, the app showed I had been paid. The passenger's contact page popped up instantly. The app reminded me to call the passenger quickly and to arrive on time. I was granted insurance, and was given several lines of a drivers' code of conduct.

To be honest, I was nervous at that moment, not because of a possible encounter with bad guys but because of the instant effect of the e-contract requiring quality service. Both driver and passenger are registered users, so opening the positioning function of the smartphone makes any possible illegal activity risky for the criminal.

My first passenger was a young woman in her 20s, just off a night shift. As we chatted on the way home. I learned that she is a salesperson with the Alexander McQueen outlet in Sanlitun, working a 12-hour shift and getting one day off on a rotation.

At that moment, I felt genuine amazement at the power of big data and the pleasure of sharing. Most important, the pay I received was enough to offset my gasoline cost that day.

The woman's loyalty to the app and frequent use, she said, was because it was cheaper, easier and more fun than conventional commuting. She praised other apps with similar functions but said 51yongche and dida were the most popular ones.

My second passenger was a ministry official who is doing on-the-job doctoral studies at the University of International Business and Economics, opposite the China Daily office where I work.

We talked about a wide range of topics while driving through the traffic jam on the East Second Ring Road, including carpool concepts, pension reform for civil servants and government bodies, the country's anti-graft campaign, next-generation education and even pollution control.

One day last month, when my car was barred from operations because of the license plate restriction, I requested a car via the apps.

Five minutes later, someone responded to my order. I paid and followed the app's guidance on what to do next.

My driver, in a white BMW, arrived 10 minutes early at the entrance to my office building. She is a lecturer, a fresh graduate of a doctoral program at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, about 1 kilometer south of my office.

We talked about baby nursing, preschool education, home prices, balance between work and life, traditional Chinese medicine and expectations for the next generation.

What I have listed above is not to echo some people's view that carpool apps are for making friends or seeking affairs. My point is that the app users I've encountered - both drivers and passengers - are not bad guys. They are as normal and hardworking as you or I.

I would call carpooling a "green commute", since it cuts in half the carbon emissions per load. It also helps to cement contractual relationships and boosts a sharing spirit, a spirit of being nice and helpful to others.

Carpooling or ride-sharing is encouraged across the world, especially in developed countries. In the US and UK, only cars loaded with at least two people are allowed to use designated fast lanes.

In Beijing, transportation authorities issued guidance on car sharing in January last year and released a detailed proposal in March this year, gradually raising the curtain for wider use of the apps.

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