Investigators: Dr. Steven Rolf, ESRC Digit Research Fellow at the University of Sussex Business School, Dr. Wei Wei, Research officer at University of Oxford, Associate Fellow at Digit Research Centre.


With the development of Internet technology and big data technology, and the inflows of capital, it has seen the platformisation of road freight in China since the mid-2010s. Road freight in China is increasingly becoming dominated by digital labour platforms (such as, Manbang, DiDi Freight, Huolala). These platforms achieved business success due to its innovative business models which algorithmically match drivers with shippers to improve freight efficiency and lower empty loads. Digital freight platforms not only resolve some market inefficiencies through bridging information asymmetry between shippers and available truckers, but they also determine how it operates in terms of pricing, trip allocation. Haulage platforms are thus substantially changing the organisation of the road freight market and working conditions of drivers.

This project aims to identify the significant innovations in the Chinese digital road freight sector (probably the most technologically advanced in the world), examine the business operations and organisational structures of the Chinese digital freight platforms, and uncover their impact on the road freight market and drivers.

Research Questions

The project will address the following research questions:

  1. How do road haulage platforms operate in China?
  2. How do these platforms influence or determine the working patterns and conditions of drivers?

Engagement and impact

  • This project engages with the management, drivers in the digital road freight platforms and also regulators in the Chinese platform economy.
  • The project aims to produce a range of outputs which are accessible to different audiences, such as conference papers, blog articles, and journal articles.