I was that asshole last night who forced some people out of a taxi and into the rain. I was that asshole because I called a taxi on the Didi taxi app and got to take the taxi even though two people got in before me while I was waiting under an awning out of the rain.
I know how annoying it must be to finally have fought your way into an empty taxi only to be kicked out. It happened to me before I started using Didi. Last year, I wrote a column about it: “Passengers hailing on the street should have the same rights to take a cab as people using the app. Taxis are part of the public transportation environment, and public transportation serves all of the public.”
But now that I have started using Didi, I can see the other side. Getting a taxi is a war. It was cold and raining when I arrived at people’s square at midnight. I was still two stops away from my final destination and had to transfer lines, but the other subway line was closed for the night, so everyone stuck at Shanghai’s biggest subway stations was trying to get taxis. Taxi drivers sat parked outside the station soliciting riders at three times markup. People ran from corner to corner, waving frantically.
Getting a taxi is a war, and I just brought an advanced weapon to the fight. In fact, Didi is a popular app now, and the other people—most of whom must have had smart phones—had a chance to download it as well. I actually don’t have phone service on my iPhone, just wifi, but luckily Shanghai has a lot of free wifi. I found a Pizza Hut and stood under the awning and used their wifi to get online and hail a taxi.
The driver wouldn’t have come in the first place if I didn’t call him. All I was doing really was helping fix a market distortion. There were a lot more people at People’s Square than there were taxis, so much so that taxi drivers were able to break the rules by asking for markups and choosing to take two people at once to separate destinations.
In fact, the driver must have been disappointed that he didn’t think to go to People’s Square out of his own volition. When he got there, he didn’t wait a moment to call me. He seemed like he was about to accept the two independent riders who jumped in before I stuck my hand into the window and flashed my phone showing the reservation. He wanted to make some extra money.
The two guys who got in couldn’t have known I had called the cab. They got out calmly when I and the driver told them. Yet the cab wouldn’t have come if I hadn’t called it. Still, it is annoying to have a cab not serve you when you think that the regulations say they should pick up anyone without prejudice.
At this point, I can understand how Didi does fill a legitimate market need that legitimizes it and even makes it fairer in some ways than street side taxi hailing. For one thing, the driver I hailed apparently didn’t know that People’s Square was at that time a mess where he could have taken advantage of riders, while some taxi drivers at that time were trying taking advantage of riders. Didi allows for users to offer “tips” to drivers in some cities, paying extra to get a taxi quicker, thus arguably violating the spirit of having fixed prices for taxis. In fact, many local governments opposed that feature, and Shanghai has banned it. So while there were drivers asking for inflated prices right outside the subway station, Didi taxi booking app didn’t let drivers raise prices or users pay for privilege. I could summarize by saying Didi has made getting a cab more fair.
But even if I didn’t think so, I have to admit I would still be using it. After all, getting a taxi is a war. It’s not like if I was standing on the street in the rain I wouldn’t have been strategizing the best location to get a cab as quickly as possible, even before people who might have been waiting longer. All is fair in taxi wars.