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Scramble for trains fuels drive to go home by car

Updated: 2011-01-25

 Scramble for trains fuels drive to go home by car

Car owners have been trying to find passengers to share the journey with. Provided to China Daily

Many of the capital's migrant workers are hoping to avoid the traditional trouble of taking a train to their hometowns for Spring Festival by making the trip by car.

Some 108,000 people - 12,000 from the capital - registered online at jflhome.com between Jan 5 and Jan 21. The online site is the first non-governmental online platform dedicated to solving Spring Festival transportation problems.

One of the services offered on the site is the matching of people with spare seats in their cars with those who are looking for a ride.

About half of the people who have registered so far have reportedly found a match and are preparing to carpool their way home.

The website crashed on Monday because so many people were trying to log on to register.

Yang Mingzhu, who is in charge of the website's customer services, said the company is trying to solve the travel problems of people who are unable to get train or plane tickets or who cannot afford them.

"The original intention of this activity was 'offering great help with little effort'," said Yang. "So, we discourage involvement of money in any way."

She added that drivers who try to charge riders may be thought of as offering an illegal service, so the company is careful to ensure all car owners sign a document saying they will not charge before they are allowed to sign up.

"At first, we worried about complaints from the car owners, but friendship among fellow villagers, even if they are strangers, turns out to be more profound than we had thought," Yang told METRO.

Hu Hao, 32, who planned to drive back to Shandong province from Beijing with his wife on Friday, 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 said.

Some netizens however fear the service could expose people to safety risks.

Yang said the company is encouraging car owners and hitchhikers to sign an agreement and buy insurance before the journey.

"We will check the driving licenses of the drivers, and passengers will need to provide a reference from someone who lives at the driver's destination," said Yang. "Both sides will also have to provide proof of at least six months of employment."

On the Beijing-based information website bj.58.com, the number of requests for details about carpooling has surged to 15 times what it was last year.

"The number of carpool postings is running at 30,000 a day," said an official in the marketing department of the website, who declined to give his name.

Around one-third of the posts offering or seeking carpool rides are for trips to Hunan, Hubei and Sichuan provinces. Some 23 percent were for rides to Northeast China and Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

"Offering lifts to people creates a good chance to make friends with fellow villagers who are working in the same city," said a car owner surnamed Wu, 26, who is planning to drive from Beijing to Jinzhou, Liaoning province, on Jan 30.

At 11 am on Sunday, Wu posted her traveling schedule on the website beijing.baixing.com in the hopes of finding people who want to take the trip with her. She found four passengers within 24 hours.

Wu plans to charge them each 150 yuan ($23) to cover the cost of gas and road tolls.

Dong Laichao, an expert on transportation law with the Carefair Lawyer Group, warned that drivers could get in trouble doing what Wu is planning to do.

"Private cars are not supposed to be used for commercial purposes, according to the law and their auto insurance is also different from taxis," Dong said. He warned that passengers and car owners could get into disputes over issues such as insurance claims and accident liability. He said drivers especially are taking a risk.

"Even if the two sides sign disclaimers in advance, such agreements will probably be declared invalid in court if the car owner collected money from the passenger," Dong said.

However, he agreed carpooling does offer an alternative to train travel and could relieve growing transportation pressure during the festival.

China Daily

(China Daily 01/25/2011)

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