Car sharing helps ease holiday woes
Updated: 2011-01-28 13:25
By Qian Yanfeng, Cheng Yingqi and Wu Wencong (China Daily European Weekly)
Car owners in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, gather during a car-pooling event on Jan 5 as part of efforts to ease the Spring Festival travel rush. Provided to China Daily
Lining up for eight hours in the biting cold proved futile for Zhang Qing, as he was unable to get a train ticket home. Zhang and many other frustrated Chinese travelers are now pinning their hopes of reaching home through the fast growing concept of car-pooling.
A search on the Internet may offer several car-sharing options for the ensuing holiday season, but finding the one that suits his travel plans and budget is what Zhang is looking for.
"There are many car owners offering such paid lift services during the Spring Festival rush to reduce their own costs of driving home," says Zhang, a 28-year-old Shanghai-based auto parts technician from Youxi in Southeast China's Fujian province.
"It's a good deal for the driver and passenger as the gasoline and toll charges are shared. Sometimes the cost per person is cheaper than taking a train, and provides a more comfortable option to reach home."
Zhang expects to find a car owner traveling to Youxi in the next few days, as it would help him save an extra 100-kilometer coach trip from Fujian's provincial capital Fuzhou.
The annual Spring Festival rush in China is often dubbed the world's biggest annual human migration. With demand far exceeding capacity, trains and roads are often clogged with the multitudes trying to find their way home. Getting a normal ticket on a train or bus or even an airplane during the period is next to impossible.
According to the Ministry of Transport, about 2.85 billion passenger trips by airplane, train, ferry and highway will be made during this year's cross-country rush. That in turn, represents an 11.6-percent year on year growth over 2010.
Car sharers rent a car and share the costs together, or in some cases the owner charges riders to reduce his gasoline and toll costs.
Internet forums are full of such posts looking for people who travel in the same direction.
Liu Ran, owner of a small construction and decoration company in Shanghai, is one of the many drivers looking for passengers to reduce his costs. He is looking for two passengers who can pay 500 yuan apiece for traveling in his five-seater sedan to Nanbu county in Southwest China's Sichuan province. That compares with the normal train tickets of over 700 yuan.
For Liu it is not only reduced costs of about 1,000 yuan for the journey that makes the prospect worthwhile, but the fact that he can bring along his wife and daughter and the
big packages of special purchases made for Spring Festival.
"At least I don't have to put up with the squeeze and suffocation in a train compartment," Liu says. "Car-pooling could also help some of my fellow townsmen without a train ticket home."
Liu said he could not go home during the last three Spring Festivals,
as he was unable to get train tickets.
"I chose to stay in Shanghai given the difficulty in securing a train ticket home," he says.
The fear of making the journey home in an overcrowded train was also part of the reason why he recently bought his own car. Liu expects to complete the 1,900 km stretch from Shanghai to his hometown in 22 hours.
"It's a long journey of course. So I'd prefer the potential rider to be a driver so that he can take the wheels when I'm tired," Liu says.
Car rental companies have also been reporting booming businesses with increasing orders.
An employee from Shanghai Ruijie Car Rental Company surnamed Li says that 95 percent of the more than 100 cars at his company have been rented out to passengers at prices ranging from 88 yuan to several thousand yuan per day.
"Most of the customers rent cars to drive home for family reunions as they want to escape the Spring Festival rush and also because people now pay more attention to the comfort and joy of traveling by road," Li says.
Despite the huge popularity of carpooling however, experts warn that there are risks involved.
Dong Laichao, an expert on transportation law with the Carefair Lawyer Group, warns that there will be problems for drivers if they charge riders for the trip.
"Private cars are not supposed to be used for commercial purposes, and according to the law their auto insurance is also different from taxis," Dong says. He warned that passengers and car owners could get into disputes over issues such as insurance claims and accident liability.
"Even if the two sides sign disclaimers in advance, such agreements will probably be declared invalid in court if the car owner collects money from the passenger," Dong says.
However, he agreed car-pooling does offer an alternative to train travel and could relieve growing transportation pressure during the festival.
At jflhome.com, a website which offers to match people with spare seats in their cars with prospective passengers, operators try to encourage free rides between the two sides.
Yang Mingzhu, who looks after customer services at the website, says that drivers who charge passengers may be thought of as offering an illegal service. He says his company ensures that all car owners sign a document saying they will not charge any fees before they are allowed to sign up.
Hu Hao, 32, who plans to drive back to Shandong province from Beijing with his wife, has agreed to give a young couple a ride.
"Of course it's a free ride. We can take turns with the driving on the way and it will be nice to have someone else to chat with on the journey so we won't get bored," he says.
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