By Xinhua Writers Zhang Xudong and Yao Yuan
QINGDAO, March 8 (Xinhua) -- Lyu Hui emptied a bus fare box and counted the mostly one-yuan (0.15 U.S. dollar) banknotes and coins within a minute, winning her the top prize of a counting competition on Thursday.
The 44-year-old "bus cashier" in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, received the prize with a mixture of pride and worries.
"After mobile payments, such as Alipay and WeChat Pay, became available on buses, we receive less and less cash," Lyu said. "I might lose my job someday."
Lyu has been counting cash from bus fare boxes for 20 years at Qingdao Public Transportation Group, the main operator of the city's buses. The company's cash collection center has 190 employees, including counting money members, fare box openers and a repairer of damaged cash.
A key feature of the bus cashier job is that the majority are women, as it requires patience and attentiveness, according to Dong Xuehua, director of the center, who admits that mobile phone payments now threaten the job.
"Twenty-four members of the center retired last year, but we have no recruiting plan," said Dong. "The daily amount of cash collected from a box has dropped sharply from 235 yuan several years ago to about 58 yuan now."
"Most young people are using mobile payment and IC cards, only the elderly and some tourists insert cash into fare boxes," Dong added.
Mobile payment systems made their way onto the company's 4,300 buses last year, coinciding with the trend in many other Chinese cities that now allow passengers to use QR codes on their phones to pay bus fares.
According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), about 583 million people used mobile payments in China in 2018, up 10.7 percent from 2017. Across China's service sector from public transport to vegetable peddling, mobile payments are emerging as the new convention.
Tencent, the IT giant that owns WeChat Pay, said its passenger codes have been available in subways, buses and ferry services in over 100 Chinese cities. Another financial service provider UnionPay said by the end of 2018, its mobile payment service was available in buses in over 570 cities and counties.
A random survey on a bus in Qingdao showed that only one in every ten bus passengers still used cash to pay.
"Mobile payments save the trouble of bringing cards and cash, let alone the occasional discounts, so it is very popular among students," said Li Xin, a college student and a frequent commuter in Qingdao.
Sun Xia sold bus tickets between 1990 and 1995 before self-service fare boxes shunted her to the money counting center in 1996. Now the only repairer of damaged money at the center, she understands that once again, her days are numbered.
"I practiced repairing banknotes for years, but I might have to learn some new skills for a new post," said Sun, who can identify fake coins in seconds and repairs about 900 damaged notes a day.
Facing a dwindling amount of cash, some cashiers at the center will be shunted to service posts, like attendants on customized shuttle buses or at coach terminals, according to Dong.
"After dealing with lifeless banknotes and coins for more than two decades, I need to muster the courage and strength to communicate with animated passengers if I have to," Sun said.