Didi’s founder says vanity and breathless expansion contributed to tragedy of passenger rape-murder
The death of the female Didi passenger has sparked nationwide concern in China over the safety of private-hire cars
Didi Chuxing’s founder Cheng Wei and president Jean Liu apologised for the death of a 20-year-old female passenger at the hands of a Didi driver, saying that “vanity” and “breathless expansion” had caused the Beijing-based start-up to lose sight of its original mission to build a better world of mobility.
“The past few days have been days of immense pain,” Cheng and Liu said in a statement released on Monday. “As founder and president of this company, we are deeply grieved and remorseful. Words are useless in the face of loss of a life. But we still wish to say sorry to the victim, her family, and everyone. We are sorry; we failed your expectations.”
Police in Yueqing city, in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, said on Saturday they found the body of a 20-year-old female surnamed Zhao, and arrested a Didi driver who confessed to her rape and murder.
The victim had sent a message to her friend a day earlier asking for help before she went missing. In May, another woman, aged 21, was raped and killed in Zhengzhou, in central China, allegedly by an unregistered Didi driver whose body was later found in a river.
The company’s ride-hitching service, which was introduced three years ago, became a popular option for people who were unable to get a train ticket or afford more expensive air fares during China’s Lunar New Year. About half of the trips were between 30 and 100 kilometres, or one to four hours drive, according to Didi in February.
Didi is said to be exploring an IPO and is locked in a battle for users with Meituan-Dianping in ride-hailing. They are among Chinese internet companies that are building online platforms for services as they seek to make their apps more sticky for users. Didi has also made international expansion a key plank of its strategy, acquiring control of Brazil’s 99 to create a rival to Uber in Latin America.
“The tragedy reminded us we have walked this path without enough respect nor humility,” according to the statement. “Our ignorance and pride led to irreversible pain and loss. We can only ask ourselves what happened.”
Cheng and Liu go on to say: “We see clearly this is because our vanity overtook our original beliefs. We raced non-stop riding on the force of breathless expansion and capital through these few years; but this has no meaning in such a tragic loss of life.”
The company has started to question whether it is doing the right thing or whether it even has the right values, they said.
“There is an enormous amount of self-doubt, guilt and soul-searching.”
For a start, Didi will stop using scale and growth as its measurement of success. Safety will be prioritised as the single most important performance indicator, they said. The company will upgrade safety features, including the SOS button and itinerary-sharing functions, while user complaints that involve personal safety issues will involve China’s 110 police hotline to ensure information reaches the police at the earliest time.
The business model of Hitch, the service linked to the two murders, will be “thoroughly re-evaluated” and “suspended indefinitely” until there is a safety protection mechanism that is accepted by users, the company said.
Didi will also begin “deeper collaboration” with law enforcement agencies to establish safety protection mechanisms and respond more effectively to evidence requests. The company will start testing a new self-service inquiry system for police, it said.
In the wake of the second killing, downloads for an app that purports to link the user to police departments via livestreaming shot up the download charts.
The National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement on Monday that various government agencies will coordinate the regulation of ride-hailing operators, while expanding use of the country’s nascent social credit system across the transport sector.
Meanwhile, police have detained two men accused by Chinese social media users of making offensive remarks about the 20-year-old passenger who was killed last week, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday. Under China’s internet rules, users who spread rumours or make defamatory comments can be arrested or even sent to jail.
Didi’s shareholders include Tencent Holdings, Baidu and Alibaba Group Holding, the owner of the South China Morning Post.