Tech and gadgets

Inside Didi Chuxing, the Ride-Hailing App that Controls China’s Traffic Lights

How Didi Chuxing uses big data to create better cities through improved traffic and happier customers

Collecting data has become priority number one for most businesses – but it’s what you do with all that information that counts. For ride-hailing mega-app Didi Chuxing, that means forcing cities to become smarter.

The reasoning is simple. If the streets are already gridlocked, fine-tuning your own services will only see incremental rewards. But if you can improve traffic flow, that means more rides, bigger profits, happier customers and – almost by accident – better cities.

Didi Chuxing, used by 80 per cent of China’s official taxis, is actively working with the authorities, pooling its data with local traffic bureaus in order to improve road flow and safety. In 2018, the Beijing-based firm switched on its first ‘Didi Smart Transportation Brain’ in the city of Jinan, Shandong. Now, more than 20 Chinese cities – including Tianjin and Shenzhen – have adopted this AI-powered solution, which uses big data and cloud computing to make millions of quickfire decisions in order to maximise traffic capacity.

In Liuzhou, Guangxi, Didi Chuxing has installed what it claims is the world’s first ‘city-level dynamic signal control optimisation system’. Previously, the process of analysing traffic data and adjusting the timing patterns of traffic lights could take months – now they can be optimised every few minutes. After just a few weeks in operation, Didi Chuxing claimed that it had already reduced traffic congestion in the city by 7.4 per cent.

It’s a system with a lot of potential, across the globe. In recent years, Didi Chuxing has expanded its ride-hailing operations throughout Latin America, Australia and Japan, and the company is in talks with the Brazilian government to help optimise its traffic lights. Meanwhile, its autonomous robo-taxis are tipped to start trials in the outskirts of Shanghai.

For the company’s president, Jean Liu, this is all the start of a process that ends with no traffic lights, no congestion, no car parks – and no private car ownership. Achieving this traffic utopia will require unprecedented amounts of cooperation between tech firms and governments – but in China, the revolution has already begun.

Cathay Travell Book


Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
Discovery Book Silkroad Book