There is no free lunch, but there are free rides.
Last Friday I took a free taxi ride, thanks to Didi Chuxing, which offered a HK$100 fare discount under a promotional campaign for a newly-launched cashless payment service.
Kicking off in-app payments to encourage cashless travel, Didi, in partnership with Visa, has begun offering discounts to drivers and customers on Fridays.
The incentive, which will be in place three consecutive Fridays starting April 20, will see passengers who make payments with credit cards using their mobile phones receive a HK$100 reward.
Each passenger can avail of up to two discounted rides per day on the three Fridays. If your bill comes to less than HK$100, it means you get a totally free ride.
The new cashless payment promotional campaign came after Didi rebranded its service in Hong Kong recently from Kuaidi Taxi.
Taking a ride, I must say that it was quite a decent surprise that I didn’t have to pay a cent for my trip. The only string attached was that I had to complete the transaction on a mobile phone using a Visa credit card that is linked to the Didi app.
If customers are happy, taxi drivers are happier. That is because Didi offered to pay HK$80 for each ride to the drivers with an added bonus of HK$1,000.
Didi claims that more than 20,000 drivers, about half of the total taxi drivers in Hong Kong, use its app in the city.
On Friday night, widely regarded as the most difficult period to get a taxi, I and my friends were a bit tipsy after imbibing one too many at the FCC bar. Choosing to go home, we used the Didi app at around 11pm.
We managed to get a car in about 10 minutes and told the driver to take us to North Point where we could drop off a friend.
When we arrived, the driver suggested we stay in the cab while we can try and make another order for the next leg of our journey. We figured the move will benefit us both; we can save more money while the driver will also get to make even more.
According to the cab driver, he has seen such tactic prove successful in a few cases involving passengers going to multiple destinations, but unfortunately it failed to work for us that night.
We spent some 30 minutes trying to connect Didi with the same driver but in vain. In the end, I and the rest of my group found ourselves taking the MTR to reach our homes.
Well, no worry, we shall try again this coming Friday, when the reward program will kick off once more after midnight Thursday.
Having had a good experience overall last Friday, we tried another ride on Saturday because of a 20 percent discount offer. Interestingly it was a rare Ford model, not the usual Toyota, which came to pick us up.
The Ford vehicle, thanks to a recent promotional price, is said to have cost the taxi operator some HK$100,000, about half of what it would have cost to get a Toyota new model.
During the journey, the driver shared with us his views and experience on credit card payments. While media reports have suggested that Hong Kong cabbies are keen to embrace mobile payments, the driver’s remarks made me conclude that some of the market optimism is unwarranted.
As a frequent rider, be it on traditional taxis or Uber, I can say that cab drivers, for the most part, have no problem in using apps to take orders, but they are still not very familiar with mobile payment, especially Alipay and WeChat.
Besides, many drivers still prefer payment in cash as they believe they would get to make more money in tips. There is a belief among drivers that passengers would skip tipping, or be less generous, when they pay for rides using electronic means.
Also, many drivers I know want to avoid filing income tax returns. Cash payments can help the drivers mask their true incomes, something that could become difficult once everything goes online.
All said and done, while the drivers are happy to participate in Didi’s promotion as it can help them earn more money, they are likely to resist any large-scale push toward electronic money once the incentive program ends.
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