Shunfengche (which translates as “hitchhiking”) is an online carpooling website that is increasingly popular among Chinese travelers, especially during this past Spring Festival holiday.

The website was started as a campaign in 2012, which called on private car owners to offer free rides to fellow countrymen during the Spring Festival travel rush. During the 2013 New Year holiday, 9,678 people made trips home by sharing a vehicle with someone they met on the website. A total of 36,294 people have now registered with the website.

Share and share alike

Car sharing via social networks is not a new concept elsewhere in the world. In recent years we’ve seen the launch of iHitch, Zipcar and Covoiturage.

In China, initial safety concerns are allayed as these solutions have incorporated reasonable security features that enable both drivers and passengers to establish a basic level of trust before taking a trip together. However, several peer-to-peer online car-sharing solutions have popped up in China in recent years, including Wodache and PickRide, in an attempt to help commuters get more comfortable with the concept of sharing a ride with strangers.

According to Mintel’s Car Retailing China March 2013 report, car sales in China will continue to grow at an annual rate of 10% from 2012-17. However, a number of conditions in Chinese cities have the potential to hamper consumers’ desire for cars, including tight control on car ownership in major cities, the high cost of oil and car maintenance, severe congestion and lack of parking spaces.

This creates an opportunity for car rent-or-share programs to take off, especially when public transport systems in major cities come under growing strain due to increased urbanization.