Didi Chuxing has achieved a valuation of US$25 billion within four years of its inception, and emerged as the largest ride-hailing company on the mainland with a market share of over 80 per cent. Tao Ran, senior vice-president, communications, at Didi Chuxing, shares his views with Zen Soo about the company’s upcoming safety features, its expansion plans for Hong Kong and Taiwan, and its experience in partnering with Lyft, an American transportation network firm. Didi has a wide variety of services, including buses, private cars and taxis. Is it looking to replace the public transport industry? At Didi, we are not trying to replace public transport. There will always be people who will still use the subway system and public buses. But the problem is that the mainland’s public transport system is not very developed. Unlike the United States, public transport in China is not as efficient or evolved to respond to the ground realities. We are also trying to bridge the gap by offering services such as Didi buses that run on popular routes to serve commuters. We are not a heavy assets company and do not own any of the buses. Instead, we work with leasing firms and bus companies to provide such services. We already have over 500,000 users for our bus service. What is Didi’s ultimate goal? Our goal is to become the world’s leading one-stop mobility platform based in China. Right now we offer various mobility services, but in an ideal situation in the future, perhaps users will no longer have to choose which transport option to take to get from point A to point B. Users could just tell us their destination, and based on our data and their usage patterns, we would be able to evaluate price and other preferences, before assigning a mode of transport that would be most ideal. Some of your partners such as Grab have put a huge focus on safety with features such as number masking to protect the privacy of passengers. What is Didi doing to ensure safety for its users? Safety is definitely one aspect that we put great emphasis on. We are working on several features for the app, including a one-touch button that connects a user to a priority task force with instant access to police. There will also be a feature that lets both rider and driver share the details of their journey in real time with a family or a friend, through an automated sharing function. This way if something happens to the user, his friends and family will know the whereabouts. We will also introduce facial recognition into the verification process. Besides, all our drivers are screened carefully. We require drivers to submit relevant identification proofs along with driving licences and particulars of vehicle registration. They also need to have at least a year’s experience before driving with us. We are the only ride-sharing platform that is working with law enforcement agencies on criminal background checks. We are pushing for more access to such databases. We have also set up a safety committee, which looks at how we can make our services safer for both our passengers and drivers. Our insurance programme for our private car drivers has more coverage than that of taxi companies. Should an accident happen during a Didi ride, we will foot the bill for medical expenses upfront while the case is being investigated. We are working with insurance companies to offer an insurance coverage of up to 1.2 million yuan (HK$1.4 million). According to government statistics, our accident rates are lower than that of the taxi industry. It is not possible to prevent car accidents 100 per cent, but we should never stop trying harder. In some cities, local governments have ordered ride-hailing companies to stop giving subsidies and discounts to drivers and passengers. Are you worried that drivers and users will lack loyalty without these perks and switch to whichever platform pays more or has a cheaper rate? For drivers, their biggest consideration is how to earn the most on a platform within the same duration of time. The metric we look at is trips per hour (TPH) taken by each driver. Our TPH is much higher than that of our competitors. For passengers, what matters most is that they are able to order a car or taxi quickly, and have the vehicle arrive as fast as possible for the pick up. When you can offer such a service to customers, passengers will develop a loyalty, and won’t switch easily to other ride-hailing services. It’s a positive cycle. When drivers see that there are more passengers and trips with a service, which corresponds with a rise in income, then more join it. With more drivers, more passengers can be serviced, which, in turn, will raise their strength. China’s car-hailing market is set to expand on increased investment Is Didi planning to expand in markets such as Hong Kong and Taiwan? Our taxi services have always been available in Hong Kong, and it is quite popular among drivers because it helps them increase their income. But we are cautious and want to take into consideration regulatory factors. Our colleagues in Hong Kong are holding talks with the government on ride-sharing issues. We are monitoring these areas since Hong Kong comes under the Greater China region. Even if we develop the market, we need to build good partnerships. Every market is different and diversified, so having a local partner will give us more stability. Didi passengers can use the Didi app to hail a car in the US, with Lyft’s driver network. By cooperating with partners such as Lyft, do you think that this limits international expansion plans for the company? Our international plans are very different from what people usually expect. We do things a little differently. In every country, every city, our approach is different, be it geography, transport or regulations. It is important to have strong local partners that you can work with such as managing relations with drivers as they understand the local cultural sensitivities better. In our beta tie-up with Lyft, we’ve realised that the culture for ride-hailing in China and in the US is completely different. For example, in China, drivers will always call you after receiving your order to ask you where you are, or to tell you that they have arrived. But in the US, drivers don’t do this. Instead, they will just send you a notification that they have arrived and wait for you by the kerb. We have to educate Didi users, who may use the app in the US, about this cultural difference. They should not expect their drivers to give them a call, and try other methods of communication. Imagine, if we had to acquire such knowledge on our own, how much capital and time we would have to invest before we could get hang of it? Mobility is an offline industry, but it has many varying regional and local characteristics. Local partners will always understand the variables better.