A ride-hailing veteran is creating an Uber on the blockchain that won’t be controlled by capitalists

A one-time Didi rival is back in the game.
A one-time Didi rival is back in the game.
Image: EPA/How Hwee Young
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Imagine a decentralized version of Uber that connects drivers and commuters, letting them negotiate fares directly.

That’s one possibility with a ride-hailing service powered by the blockchain. An “Uber on the blockchain” might sound like a clumsy attempt to mash together two tech buzzwords, but Chen Weixing, who is building such a service, is a sharing-economy veteran who helped shape the world’s largest ride-hailing market, China. His company Kuaidi Dache merged with its arch-rival Didi Dache in 2015 to become Didi Chuxing, which a year later merged with Uber’s China unit and now dominates ride-hailing in the country.

“Ride hailing is the first time blockchain will be tested on a social application on mass scale,” Chen reportedly said on the sidelines of a tech conference in China (link in Chinese) on May 27.

Chen, CEO of an app-development firm called Fun City, is a known blockchain enthusiast, having invested in a long list (link in Chinese) of Chinese blockchain projects, including Qtum and Tron, and exchange operators such as Binance and Huobi.

Though he hasn’t revealed a timetable for his blockchain-powered ride-hailing service, Chen shared some details in a WeChat post, according to Chinese media (link in Chinese). In it, he said the decentralized platform wouldn’t be controlled by “capitalists” but instead would be shared between “laborers” and “consumers.” Billing it as a “great, Nobel Prize-level social experiment,” Chen said the project will be a collaboration between him and Yang Jun, co-founder of Chinese group deals app Meituan. Quartz has reached out to Fun City for more information about the project.

This won’t be the first foray into blockchain-based ride-sharing. Arcade City, for instance, launched in Austin, Texas in 2016 as an ethereum-based ride-sharing app. But the controversial project split into two brands last year after its leadership engaged in a public spat over management issues.

Chen does seem to sense an opening in the Chinese market. Whereas Didi once held a monopoly in China, it appears the country’s ride-sharing wars have reignited after Tencent-backed Meituan announced it was expanding into the business. As Didi recovers from a PR nightmare after a female passenger was murdered, smaller players like Dida also see an opportunity to win over more users.