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Self-driving buses and taxis are proliferating across China as the country’s human workforce moves away from the frontline of the nation’s economic boom
Drivers in China are moving towards retirement at a faster rate than ever before with state-backed safety technology, self-driving tech and artificial intelligence creating what many believe is a genuine threat to the jobs market.
An editorial in the official China Daily newspaper said China had seen a rise in self-driving robotaxis, limousines and buses over the past year, in an apparent move to increase the safety of its infrastructure, reduce congestion and consequently fuel consumption, and make state-owned firms more efficient.
“For most of China’s economy, only by 2020 would autonomous driving be able to match human skills in most or all car functions,” the editorial said.
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Under prime minister Li Keqiang, the government has made no secret of the fact that a resurgent labour market could make it difficult to achieve another three decades of rapid growth in China’s economy, with widespread unemployment on the horizon.
In 2016, a new minimum wage took effect for China’s 28 largest cities, which can now regulate wages and cut costs. At the same time, officials warned of the high unemployment that a new open economy could bring.
With China’s self-driving robotaxis and taxi fleets now operating in some cities, many people across the country may be wondering if they will see any movement in the related domestic work market.
In China’s capital Beijing, officials in the Beijing transport bureau have started to approve new ridesharing platforms such as Geely’s on-demand taxi service Didi Chuxing. Earlier this year, Didi announced that it would remove cars belonging to its long-time partner Geely from Beijing and Shanghai.
Reports say many of the city’s taxis would be taken off the road by self-driving electric cars from the technology company Baidu. As well as the next wave of ridesharing startups, more companies will also try to use the new transportation to attract higher wages.
“The productivity gains that would come from transport technology are extremely important for the economy,” Pan Gongsheng, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) vice governor, said last month.
Policymakers will not back down on using new technology, Pan said, noting that it had a key role to play in moving the country towards a fully closed economy, only possible through development of new industries and innovation.