Hail Taxis From Anywhere in Chengdu With This Amazing App

In recent years it’s become more and more difficult to flag taxis in Chengdu. If you’re coming from a busy area like Chunxi Lu or a remote area like the Tianfu Software Park, you can be waiting a long time. Over the last year I’ve taken to riding my bicycle (an amazing fixed gear bike built by Natooke in Chengdu) as often as possible, but in some situations only a taxi will do. In those situations, I’ve begun using an iPhone app called Didi Taxi (嘀嘀打车 dí dí dă chē in Chinese) to effortlessly flag taxis, even during rush hour. I find it to be pretty amazing (and so do many others apparently, since they just received $100 million in funding). Here’s how it works.

Didi Taxi in a Nutshell

Didi Taxi App

Taxis near The Bookworm

As you read this, there are hundreds of taxis driving around Chengdu with Didi Taxi enabled, usually running on a smartphone that’s mounted to their dashboard. After you’ve completed the quick setup procedure on your smart phone, you launch the app and can see these taxis driving around you in a 3D map view, in real time. All you have to do is send a quick voice (or text) message stating your destination and a car will be on it’s way to get you, usually within seconds.

Once a driver has answered your call, it will be highlighted on the map and information like their distance from you and estimated time of arrival appear on the app. In most cases, all of this happens within 10 seconds. It’s amazingly fast.

As I write this (sitting in The Bookworm), I launched Didi to see how many taxis were nearby. The screenshot on the right of my iPhone shows how many taxis are nearby. As you can see, the map is filled with them. Super convenient.

Using Didi For the First Time

The setup procedure is simple enough: when you launch the app for the first time you’ll bind your phone number to the app by receiving a text message and inputting a four-digit code into Didi. With your phone number bound, taxi drivers can (and will) call you on your phone to confirm your location. These are generally 10-second long “I’m at the intersection, where are you?” calls.

Once you’ve gotten in the taxi, information like the drivers name, license plate number, and reviews will appear. These are Yelp-like reviews of service, speed, and friendliness for each driver. You can see reviews and star-average for each driver, which is nice and surprisingly useful compared to the useless star rating which taxis have implemented for years (similar to the also useless star ratings you find for tellers inside Chinese banks).

Some Chinese Skills Required

As with a lot of China’s best services (Taobao is the first one that comes to mind), Didi Taxi is only available in Chinese. There is no English version sadly, but don’t let that discourage you because there is very little Chinese that you’ll need to decipher in order to use this service. In my usage I’ve noticed that drivers frequently call me after I’ve requested a pickup, so basic listening and speaking skills will help.

Didi Taxi App

As a bonus, I have noticed that drivers located this way are especially friendly. I believe this may be due to the eliminated anonymity of taxi drivers. When you can address them by name and their performance is being tracked, they’re a lot less likely to trick you, cheat you, or act rudely.

Scheduled Pickups & Tips

One other feature which I’ve found hugely helpful is scheduled pickups. You can request a taxi immediately, or specify a time and place to be picked up. This is really handy if you have to be somewhere at a specific time – let’s say you have a flight to catch and you don’t want to worry about jeopardizing your flight by fruitlessly hunting for taxis during rush hour. Arrange to have a taxi pick you up at the specific time and place. Problem solved.

The final feature that I found notable is tipping. You can optionally add a tip of 5 – 20 rmb onto the normal fare, which might help you locate a taxi during the busiest of times. I have never had to use this feature, but I imagine it might come in handy if you’re looking for a taxi during rush hour downtown. I’ve certainly been in situations where I would happily pay an extra 20 rmb to find a taxi immediately.

Conclusion & Links

I still think that a bicycle is the best way to get around Chengdu. But if you’re going to the airport, traveling a long distance, or have heavy cargo to carry with you, using Didi Taxi can save you a lot of time and hassle. As the number of cars in Chengdu has increased and traffic has grown to be more of a headache than ever before, there’s never been a better time to take advantage of convenient loopholes like this.

Visit the Didi Taxi Official Website or download the app on the iOS App Store or Google Play. Have you used Didi Taxi or have another app which has made life in China more convenient for you? Leave a comment below!

 

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About Charlie

Having lived in Chengdu for seven years, Charlie has traveled to every corner of China and back again, calling the Yulin neighborhood of Chengdu his home. He's a part time DJ and full time iPhone game developer, too.

14 Responses to “Hail Taxis From Anywhere in Chengdu With This Amazing App”

  1. Graham

    Hey Charlie. Great summary. Just added the same app to my Android device so useful to know it’s working well. All I need to do now is explain how it works to my wife as it’s a whole new concept to both her and other locals.

    • Thanks Graham. So far I’ve been pretty amazed at how well this works.

      Surprising that your wife hasn’t heard of this, it’s seems to be getting hugely popular which could have major implications on the taxi infrastructure of Chengdu. Imagine hundreds of people in your neighborhood using this app to seek taxis and the effects that would have.

      As Sascha mentioned, this app is clearly based on Western apps which have been around for a few years like Uber. I used something similar to Didi in Berlin recently to get a ride to the airport and it worked great there also.

  2. Ought to be an app like this for cycling that highlights ride-able streets in your vicinity. I’d check the app out but taxis to me seem to be one of the sillier ways to waste money. Especially in Chengdu. Who would pay a stranger to be caught in traffic?

    • Sometimes you have cargo to carry, or you’re in a group of 3 or 4, or you’re going to the airport, or you don’t have an hour to cycle to a faraway destination. In those situations, the ability of taxis which cost you a few dollars is an awesome convenience to have. Especially compared to the states, where you’re screwed in almost all cities without owning a car.

      A Natooke app would be great. You could have custom routes, customizable bikes, a list of the items in your shop for sale, maps to your location or to events, etc.

  3. I mentioned uber to someone here and they were like, oh we got that, it’s called Didi. Didn’t really feel it till now. I ride my bike a lot, but sometimes I need to take a taxi, will check this app out if i ever get an iPhone

    • It’s on Android also. From what I’ve noticed, most taxi drivers have Android devices which makes since since they’re functionally equivalent and so much cheaper.

  4. Graham

    Folks its on Android too if you have that type of Smart phone. Doesn’t have to be an Iphone

  5. I’ve been using this almost daily since I published this post and have noticed a few things:

    - the most difficult time to flag taxis for me is between 8-9am and the longest it’s taken me has been about 5 minutes. I tried tipping but that didn’t seem to change much (aside from paying more).

    - I noticed that there’s another app which is similar (identical?) to Didi which is called Kuai (快的打车). I was talking to a taxi driver this morning who uses both and he says they’re the same but he prefers Didi. Didi seems to be more popular

    - Taxi drivers seem to be friendly when using this app. Maybe since they know I’m using this app they know I speak Chinese. Or it might have to do with the rating, not sure.

  6. Rick in China

    I’m going to start using this app.. I wonder, I guess my only concern is something giving my # out to taxis, who will clearly gather huge lists of phone #s, and whether that may increase my cold call / SMS spam even further…

  7. Marky

    interestingly, the size of the tip you can offer seems to vary in size depending on the city. in Chongqing the maximum I could add was 3RMB.

    This app has been useful, only once did it annoy me – when a taxi driver accepted my fare but was 10 minutes away – while I was waiting for him, two empty taxi’s drove past.

    • Wow, maximum of 3rmb? In Chengdu the maximum is 20rmb. I’ve tipped a few drivers using this app but haven’t noticed that adding a tip makes a big difference.

      As far as your annoyance, I have had the exact same thing happen to me before. It’s definitely a significant problem with the design of this app. You can cancel the taxi coming to get you, but the app asks you to call the driver and say that you’re canceling. I did this once and the driver just asked me to tap the button that says I’m already in his car. So now if I’m waiting for a taxi and another one drives past I just get in, call the driver that was coming to get me, and tell him that I’ve gotten into another taxi but will tap the “I’ve boarded” button. Seems to satisfy them.

  8. Graham

    I meant to add this comment a while ago but forgot. Just before Chinese New Year my colleagues and I tried to use this app to help get a taxi to our company dinner (Jan 24th) from Jianse Lu to Zhongfu Lu. It proved impossible at this time – roughly 6pm. Maybe everyone in the city needed a taxi at the same time and the system was overloaded but it was of little use. The main point though was the apparent complete lack of feedback from any driver at all. Seems to me they had enough business so this became unnecessary for them. Not sure if its typical but anyone else had issues at peak times?

    • Yes, absolutely, this app is becoming much less useful because I believe there are not enough taxis to meet demand. It’s easy for the popularity of this app to explode all of a sudden because everyone has a smart phone, but the number of taxis is not increasing, so there are very clear problems with how to effectively grow this app and maintain stability as it moves into a userbase of millions.

      There are simply not enough taxis, let alone roads in Chengdu at rush hour.

      And Shanghai has already made taxi-finding apps illegal during rush hour because of the impact that it’s had: Shanghai Cracks Down on Taxi Apps Market

      Didi Taxi in particular has huge implications on the availability of taxis within major Chinese cities, especially during rush hour.

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