Didi overhauls car-pooling service to strengthen safety, following passenger death
China’s largest ride-hailing service provider plans to put its new safety protocols in place by the end of this month
Didi Chuxing, the largest ride-hailing service provider in China, is looking to overhaul its car-pooling programme Hitch in response to the tragic death last week of a female passenger in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province.
“We are committed to fully taking our due legal responsibilities related to traffic accident, public security, criminal cases and disputes on our platform,” Didi said in a statement released on Wednesday. It said new safety protocols will be put in place by the end of this month.
The Beijing-based technology start-up will make facial-recognition scanning mandatory for all drivers on its platform before they take any orders. This safety measure was designed to prevent unauthorised persons from stealing the identity of Didi-registered drivers.
Last week, a man in Zhengzhou was able to log into the account of his father because Didi’s night mode facial recognition system failed to engage, according to the company’s statement on Monday.
The 26-year-old man allegedly went on to rape and kill his passenger, a 21-year-old flight attendant who booked a ride on the Hitch service, before being found dead himself by police in a river on Saturday, according to a report from the official Xinhua News Agency.
Didi said on Wednesday that its Hitch car-pooling service, which had been suspended for a week, will not be offered after 10 in the evening when its operation resumes. For unfinished Hitch trips between 10pm and 6am, both passengers and car owners will receive special safety reminders before they set out, the company said.
It will also take down all personalised tags and profile features, following a public outcry against inappropriate comments on female passengers shared among Hitch drivers.
The ride-hailing app operator said it was also considering to introduce an option to provide voice recording of every single ride in the future. This new feature, which will give users the choice to activate it, was a means to “obtain evidence in case of disputes”, the company said.
It also aimed to redesign its app interface by providing an emergency help button in a prominent position. This will enable real-time monitoring of on-trip conversations with customer service staff and automatically sharing trip information to users’ emergency contacts.
The case of the unregistered Didi driver suspected of killing a female passenger has drawn national attention about the safety of car-pooling services like Hitch, which is aimed at pairing up commuters heading in the same direction, as well as wider concerns about the ride-hailing industry.
The company said its investigation of the Henan case was ongoing to see if procedures were followed correctly, as its customer service team had tried to contact the suspect five times on a previous verbal complaint of sexual harassment.
Didi had faced similar incidents in the past. Two years ago, mainland media reported a 24-year-old man who fraudulently signed up as a Didi driver had confessed to killing a young woman passenger and dumping her body in a remote part of Shenzhen. Didi pledged at the time to tighten up driver regulations.
Safety concerns about Didi’s service may hurt the company, as new entrants in the ride-hailing market have emerged in the past year. These include Tencent Holdings-backed Meituan Dianping, online travel services provider Ctrip and Caocao Car, a unit of Chinese automotive giant Geely.
Didi accounted for more than 90 per cent of ride-hailing orders in China, but about 40 per cent were booked directly from its app, according to a recent survey by consultancy Bain & Company.
China has become the world’s largest mobility market after a fourfold growth over the past three years, according to the Bain survey. It found 62 per cent of respondents in mainland China hail rides online, compared to 29 per cent in Germany and 23 per cent in the US.