When typing up the first set of blogs again there were some parts of living that I glossed over or have improved since coming in August 2014. This is one of them.
In the beginning right up until a couple of years ago, getting a taxi would be old style. Standing on a street corner, arm out while trying to make eye contact with drivers as they sailed on by. Or if you were lucky getting a taxi and then showing a taxi card in Chinese to the driver as to where you wanted to go. And if you were really proficient getting in a hailed taxi and saying in Chinese your address. Of course at that point you would have to hope that the taxi driver would know what you meant and indeed knew where you were going.
As the US and UK began to get Uber, in China we weren’t so lucky. But then Uber broke into the Chinese market. We were able to download the app, which was in English and by using the pins on the map we could figure out where we were going. Our lives were truly changed.
We could order a private car (generally with seat belts!), it would pick us up and drop us off without much stress or interaction as the driver would follow the pin on the map. You would know which car is yours because when a driver accepted your fare you would get a text or it would show on the app the registration plate. You could also track the direction is which the car was coming from and track the journey when you were in the car.
Ok… when I said not much interaction… I meant that despite a pin on the map saying where you were, the driver would always phone you as to where you were. This is annoying. The driver spoke no English, we spoke no Chinese – or good enough Chinese to direct him and ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS FOLLOW THE PIN ON THE MAP.
Then Uber in English disappeared, only to be replaced by Chinese. Martin was more confident and would just drag pins around or he would know the pinyin and get it translated into characters. I stopped using uber at that point and took the e-bike and buses.
We had always wondered how Uber was making money in China. It was way cheaper than taxis but it seemed that despite undercutting the taxis and competing with a new kid on the block, Didi, would be difficult. And so it was.
The new kid, Didi took over Uber with a Chinese only service. So it was back to hailing taxis on streets, buses, metro and e-bike.
However, a few months, Didi was in English and it has revolutionised our travel. Through Didi you can reserve cars (have done this numerous times when wanting to leave school at the same time as 750 pupils or an early morning trip to the train station) and you can also book taxis and larger cars etc. Using taxis this way is great and have done this when I can’t get a didi, they are still metered but it guarantees a ride. It does mean though that people who haven’t got didi find it difficult to get taxis since you don’t know which ones are en route for pick up.
Didi drivers also now don’t phone up to ask where you are. They follow the pin. Now we still stand on street corners, glued to our phones waiting for our ride to be picked up online or watching our screen tracking the driver coming to where we are standing.
We thought that living in school may make travelling by didi more difficult but as long as not too late in the evening the bus services 7, 136 and 207 take us pretty much to where we want to go.
Following a few instances of crime involving passengers in Didis, there was a time when you couldn’t use the service past 10.30pm and now when we use it we can register an emergency contact, the journey is sound recorded and on clicking a button on the app you are then phoned to make sure you are ok. The service is continually updating its safety measures. And while we wouldn’t do it, drivers are now not meant to take unaccompanied children.
Has travel in China got better for us? Absolutely. Does it work all the time? No. I couldn’t get a taxi or a private car two weeks ago at 11.30pm. I ended up walking back from the restaurant to the hotel that Martin and I were staying for the weekend on a staycation. I felt safe – safer than I felt in America (Los Angeles) at 7.30pm.