Car sharing catching on since ban was lifted
Updated: 2014-02-06 23:37
By Zheng Xin (China Daily)
After two years of unsuccessfully participating in the capital's license plate lottery, Zhang Rui has realized that owning a car may not be for her.
Instead, for now, she travels to work using a car pool website as the capital lifted a ban on carpooling earlier this year.
"The city's control on the amount of cars is so strict that I don't know if I'll ever get one — it might be tomorrow or decades later — and sharing a car with someone seems to be my only way out," said the 32-year-old bank clerk from Dongcheng district.
"It's takes ages to wait for a bus, and it's torture to join the morning metro peak and impossible to hail a taxi at that time. Carpool makes things easier."
It costs Zhang 10 yuan ($1.65) for each trip from her home to her office, a distance of less than 4 kilometers that would cost 15 yuan in a taxi.
Carpooling was once illegal in Beijing, and still is in many places due to safety concerns.
However, Beijing lifted its ban on carpooling on Jan 1 in an attempt to ease traffic congestion and help tackle pollution, becoming the first Chinese city to legalize carpooling.
The Beijing Commission of Transport said it will further study the fees that drivers can charge passengers for a ride.
With more than 5 million vehicles on its roads, Beijing knows all about congestion and vehicle exhaust fumes.
According to Wang Yong, who initiated a hitchhiking program that offers car services during rush hour, carpooling can reduce the amount of vehicles on the road by 10 to 25 percent.
Many experts welcomed the initiative.
Xu Kangming, a transport expert and founder of 3E Transportation Systems who has conducted research on Beijing's public transportation, said the move will make it easier for the public to get around the city, especially during Spring Festival.
"Most vehicles are idle most of the time, and even if they are in use, there are still vacant seats inside," Xu said. "Now you can make some money by sharing your vehicle with others, so there is no reason for not doing so."
According to Liu Kunming, a staff member at Shunfengche.org, a carpooling online platform, the service has witnessed a surge in popularity during the Spring Festival holiday.
"Spring Festival always causes more demand for car sharing, and the legalization has further boosted the appeal of carpooling," he said.
Liu said many car pools offer services from Beijing to neighboring provinces as well provinces in the northeast.
"To share a ride home not only reduces the cost of the trip, but also helps many who failed to get a train or plane ticket," he said.
"For the safety of commuters, we suggest they sign a contract detailing the responsibilities and costs to avoid potential disputes."
During the 2013 New Year holiday, as many as 9,678 people made trips home by sharing a vehicle with someone they met on the website.
Liu said he was confident the legislation would help more people get home during the upcoming holiday in a shared car.
"It's a first step — a very important first step," he said.
Xu also suggested that the government and companies set up similar platforms so that colleagues living near each other can share a vehicle.
However, not all experts are optimistic about the future of car sharing.
Jia Xinguang, director of the China Automobile Dealers Association, said passenger safety and the rampant use of illegal taxis might be areas for concern.
Zhang Zhuting, a professor at the Ministry of Transport's Management College, was also worried about potential risks due to the lack of regulations.
"The driver is responsible for any accidents, no matter the cause, and the passenger should also be aware of safety issues when sharing a car with a stranger."
Zhang said car sharing is more common among neighbors from the same community.
Zhang said he also doubted car sharing would make much of a dent in air pollution.
"Carpooling might serve a supplementary role in easing smog and the sardine-can packed traffic, but might not make a big difference," he said.
For cities like Beijing, the best way to tackle congestion lies in further developing public transportation and the expansion of subways, he said.
With such a large population, carpooling's role in easing congestion is simply too small, at least at the moment, he said.
Yi Shenghua, a lawyer at Beijing Yingke Law Firm, said the lack of regulations means passengers face risks.
"The government needs to come up with detailed regulations, differentiating between private car sharing and illegal taxis, and clarify liabilities in case of accidents," he said.